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Silent House

D: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau / 86m

Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross, Adam Barnett, Haley Murphy

While renovating the summer home her family hasn’t visited or used for some time, Sarah (Olsen) begins to experience strange phenomena that may mean the house is haunted.  She is particularly attuned to the strange goings on, and finds herself becoming more and more aware that not everything is as it should be.  A visit from childhood friend, Sophia (Ross), whom she clearly doesn’t remember, adds to the sense of unease Sarah feels.  When her uncle Peter (Stevens) leaves after a dispute with her father John (Trese), Sarah starts to hear weird noises coming from one of the rooms upstairs.  She gets her dad to investigate but at first they don’t find anything (though John does find some photographs that he quickly hides away).  When her father is attacked and injured, Sarah tries to flee the house but finds herself locked in and unable to get out.  With someone else in the house, stalking her, Sarah becomes increasingly terrified; she finds a key to the padlock on the storm cellar door and escapes.

Outside, she has a vision of a young girl (Murphy), and runs into her returning uncle.  She tells him about her father and they head back to the house.  Peter goes inside; while Sarah waits in the car she becomes convinced someone has gotten in there with her.  She runs back into the house and locks the front door behind her.  Peter can’t find her father’s body (though he does find some photographs that he quickly hides away).  They search for John but Peter is attacked and knocked unconscious by the unknown intruder (Barnett).  Sarah’s visions of the young girl become more frequent, and the intruder looks more and more like a reanimated corpse.  Once again, Sarah tries to flee the house…and runs into Sophia who begins to challenge her memories of the past.  With her visions of the young girl proving more and more revealing of a past tragedy that happened at the house, Sarah is forced to confront some horrible truths surrounding her childhood.

Silent House - scene

A remake of the Uruguayan movie La casa muda (2010), Silent House starts off well, its remote lakeside location just wintry enough to make things feel eerie from the start.  The house is a bit of a labyrinth and seems to contain more rooms than seems feasible when looking at it from the outside, and the basement seems twice as large again.  The lack of working electricity adds to the atmosphere and the battery lamps used throughout throw out just enough light to keep things hidden in the shadows, further adding to the sense of foreboding, while Olsen’s wide-eyed moon face reflects the building tension with unexpected authority.

With all this in place, it’s a surprise then that the movie doesn’t work as well as it should.  The main problem lies in the approach to the material. What begins as a haunted house movie mutates part way through into a psychological thriller with lingering supernatural overtones, and ends as an uncomfortable revenge drama.  Wearing and shedding so many identities leaves Silent House feeling as if the writer (co-director Lau) couldn’t decide which approach was the most effective.  This also leaves the movie feeling disjointed and incohesive, and there are too many moments when the requirements of the script make for forced (non-)activity on screen – is it unreasonable to assume that Sarah wouldn’t be seen hiding under the kitchen table by the intruder?  There’s also the issue of what’s real and what’s not real – there’s a good argument to be made for Sophia not being real throughout, but this isn’t confirmed one way or the other – and it’s unclear if what Sarah is seeing is happening at all, but in the hands of Kentis and Lau the ending is inconclusive (but maybe deliberately so).

While the directors try and decide what kind of a movie they’re making, it’s left to Olsen to shoulder the burden of selling the movie and its twists and turns.  Fortunately she’s up to the task, and even if she can’t quite make the final scenes ring true, it’s still a strong performance, Sarah’s increasing hysteria tempered by an overriding obduracy.  Trese and Stevens are fine, if underused, and Ross is realistically creepy in her manner; when Sophia gives Sarah a hug it’s so awkward as to be cringe-inducing.  When she returns towards the movie’s end, her appearance is a powerful boost to proceedings (even if it doesn’t make complete sense for her to be there).

Rating: 6/10 – it needs a better ending, but on the whole Silent House works well within its (for the most part) interior location; a great performance from Olsen anchors the more outlandish moments and there’s a degree of fun to be had in trying to work out what’s happening and why, but sadly the movie stumbles far too often for it to be completely successful.