Found-footage filmmaking has been all the rage in horror films for the past few years with the Paranormal Activity franchise and its innumerable variants making enthusiastic use of the cheap but effective vérité technique for conjuring scares. Silent House the new (well somewhat new) thriller from the husband-and-wife directing team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau may not technically be found-footage but its hand-held “captured in real time” approach achieves essentially the same effect minus the idiotic faux disclaimers attesting to its "authenticity."
Presented as a single 88-minute take without any visible editing (think Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope) Silent House stars Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) as Sarah a somewhat aloof young girl staying with her father (Adam Trese) as he and his brother (Eric Sheffer Stevens) renovate their family’s waterfront vacation home in preparation for its sale. After years of neglect the house has fallen into disrepair lacking electricity phone lines or much of anything else that might possibly aid a girl in surviving a home invasion the potential for which is made abundantly clear in the film’s opening act.
And just who might wish to pay Sarah an unwelcome visit? Silent House’s script written by Lau offers any number of likely suspects from the vandals who’ve repeatedly trashed the vacation home to the unsavory ex-boyfriend who’s recently resurfaced in Sarah’s life. And that supposed “childhood friend” who paid her an ominous visit can’t possibly have good intentions. Oh and let’s not forget the simmering feud between Sarah’s father and uncle the fallout from which is bound to turn one of them homicidal. Perhaps they’ll all join forces and form some kind of supergroup the Power Station of sociopaths.
Whoever they are they’re exceedingly ill-tempered as Sarah learns when she happens upon her bloodied father in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Sounds of footsteps signal that his attacker(s) is near and soon Sarah is engaged in a terrifying game of hide-and-seek scrambling about the house to evade capture.
Generous kudos must be paid to cameraman Igor Martinovic who works in lock-step with Olsen in Silent House trailing close behind as she darts up and down the stairs peering over her shoulder as she gingerly opens a door and training on her face as she grimaces in silent terror trying to contain her panic as her unseen tormentor approaches. There are times however when Silent House could use a steadier hand. During some of the film’s more frantic moments the action becomes so hopelessly frenzied as to turn cinema vérité into cinema vomité.
Silent House’s "captured in real time" gimmick is exceedingly well-executed with hidden cuts spread pretty much seamlessly throughout the film. (Of course the fact that I spent a good deal of time scanning for said hidden cuts testifies to its potential to become a distraction.) Lau and Kentis establish a steady build-and-release rhythm with the tension while dropping in subtle clues here and there as to the motives behind the mayhem.
The success or failure of Silent House ultimately hinges on the efforts of Olsen who quite impressively shoulders the burden of inhabiting nearly every frame of the film. Olsen is significantly more nuanced than your typical scream-queen and it’s her performance alone that holds the film aloft during its more ludicrous moments.
Good as she is Olsen can’t hope to rescue the film’s poorly conceived third act. Over a year removed from its 2011 Sundance debut Silent House saw its ending thoroughly rejiggered in preparation for its theatrical release with the final 15 minutes replaced entirely. In its existing iteration the film abruptly takes leave of its senses during the climax with a flurry of preposterous twists and revelations that are only frightening in their abject inanity.
Click here to hear Elizabeth Olsen talk about Silent House's arduous shooting process in our exclusive interview.
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Stop me if you've heard this one before: Rich spoiled rebellious teen gets sent to her eccentric grandmother’s home in a small town when said teenager’s own mother can’t take it anymore. Said mother is also estranged from said grandmother while deep dark family secrets are exposed and life lessons learned. There isn’t much else to Georgia Rule save for the fact that irresponsible teen Rachel (Lindsay Lohan) uses sex as a way to connect with any man she meets; prim proper—and raging alcoholic—mom Lilly (Felicity Huffman) has made a career out of staying away from the place she grew up God knows why; and matriarch Georgia (Jane Fonda) forces everyone around her to adhere to her own set of steadfast rules—dinner at six no drinking in the house no taking the Lord’s name in vain—as a way to control life. She also wears pretty hip clothes for a granny. Yes this is the movie in which the producer gave Lindsay Lohan a very public slap on the wrist for partying too much and being continually late to the set. But here’s a thought: Maybe Lohan just took the Method style of acting a little too far. I mean she IS supposed to be reckless sexually promiscuous and wild childish as Rachel so maybe Lohan stayed in character even when the camera turned off? Yeah right. To be fair Lohan does a nice job in Georgia Rule realistically portraying the troubled teen Lolita who lashes out in ways teenagers in her predicament often do. Huffman and Fonda are also in top form especially Huffman who goes through the most emotional range as the deeply wounded Lilly. Problem is we aren’t quite sure why she’s such a mess since Georgia doesn’t seem to be that horrible of a mother. Nevertheless Huffman is spot on. As is Fonda whose scenes with Huffman give the film added credibility. In a nice supporting turn Dermot Mulroney plays the town’s veterinarian/doctor who was Lilly’s one-time flame but now has to bat away the seductive Rachel. It’s kind of uncomfortable at times. With director Garry Marshall’s name attached expect the sap to pour freely. It’s just the type of stuff he likes to direct made apparent by his previous efforts such as everything from old standards Pretty Woman and Beaches to the sugary The Princess Diaries. It also doesn’t help that Georgia is written by another schmaltz-producer Mark Andrus (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Life As a House). But with Georgia they both tackle some pretty serious family issues along with an R rating (the f-word is thrown around quite a bit) which allows the film to sometimes rise above its over-the-top sentimentality and made-for-TV sensibilities. And according to actors who have worked with Marshall he really doesn’t direct a film as much as hosts one so it does indeed look like the actors are having some fun. I just wonder what an old timer like Marshall--who has made careers for actresses such as Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway—might have said to young Lindsay for holding up his production because he doesn’t look like someone who tolerates such behavior. Ah to be a fly on the wall...