Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sounding Off About Silent House

Remakes are a hot button topic with horror fans. Even though remakes have been a part of the fabric of genre filmmaking for forever and a day, the announcement of another remake typically provokes a heated response. And it's not just about classic being remade - some of the most heated reactions happen when Hollywood remakes a foreign film within a year or so of the original's release. The main point of contention being that remaking a foreign film right out of the gate rather than giving the original a chance to find an audience on its own in the US sends the message that studios cater to lazy American audiences who can't be bothered to read subtitles.

For some reason, though, any fanboy outrage over remaking the 2010 Uruguayan film La Casa Muda has been minimal. Maybe because the original has not caught on as a fan favorite in the way that, say, [REC] had by the time its US remake Quarantine was put into production. It's not a badge of coolness to like Silent House so there's not much consternation over the remake.

I haven't watched the original Silent House and, honestly, having watched the remake I don't plan on making the time to do so (another complaint against remakes, by the way - they discourage viewers from discovering the original). It's not that I hated Silent House, just that I suspect that the remake didn't veer from from the source material and another trip through the same story just doesn't appeal to me.

The main hook of Silent House is that it's presented in one continuous take. Of course there are edits throughout the film but they're invisible, done in moments where the film is in black. It's a stunt that's been done before - most famously in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948) and genre fans might also remember the Bruce Campbell starring Running Time (1997), directed by Evil Dead alumni Josh Becker - but whenever it's done, it's always an impressive technical feat. Not just for the coordinated efforts of the behind the scenes crew but for any actor who has to stay on screen for the duration of the film.

Whatever faults might be found in Silent House (and we'll get to them momentarily), the central performance of Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah isn't one of them. Olsen recently received a heap of praise for her role in last year's Martha Marcy May Marlene and while that film has been on my "to see" list for awhile, it's now rocketed to the top of my "must see" list thanks to seeing her in action in Silent House.

Olsen really gives an impressive performance here in a role that is short on dialogue but requires her to run the gamut of emotion. It's a classic Scream Queen performance in that the film resembles the Final Chase of a slasher movie with Olsen almost continually on the run from an unknown assailant stalking her and her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) within the walls of her family's old lakeside home as they prep the long neglected property for sale.

As Olsen's Sarah screams, runs, and fights for her survival, it's the same kind of scenario that horror fans have seen Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne King, Amy Steel, or any number of other Final Girls run through. Only instead of occupying the last twenty minutes of the film, Olsen really gets a workout as she has to sustain this level of terror for the majority of Silent House's eighty eight minute running time.

Some would say that the lack of build-up to Sarah's plight works against creating audience sympathy for the character. We don't really know much at all about Sarah before we're asked to root for her survival. I don't agree with that complaint myself as I think it's fairly easy to feel sympathetic towards someone under attack. I don't really need to know what their life story is to care. Getting to know more about a character is always good but the lack of backstory is not an insurmountable obstacle to audience sympathy.

Whatever level of sympathy viewers may or may not feel for Sarah, though, their feelings for the overall movie will be tested by Silent House's concluding moments as the reason for Sarah's ordeal comes to light. I won't go into details but I will say it's not going to please everybody. In fact, it'll probably be a deal breaker for most. Me, I thought it was fine. I didn't love the resolution but I didn't feel like it betrayed my investment in the film. Ultimately, Silent House is a shoulder shrug sort of film - it's not awful but I'd never revisit it and I'd only recommend it on the strength of Olsen's performance.

This is the second film from the filmmaking couple of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau who first drew acclaim for their 2003 debut Open Water. The fact that it's taken the duo nearly ten years to deliver a follow up is a discouraging reminder of just how difficult it is to get movies made - even with a success to your name. Sadly, Silent House isn't as impressive as Open Water was but neither is it a disaster. Hopefully Kentis and Lau won't have to wait nearly another decade to add another film to their resume.


Bob Ignizio said...

Sounds pretty much like my review of the original film. Which means I'll probably pass on the remake like you're going to pass on the original. Once you know the twist, which I'm guessing is the same, there's really no point in seeing it again, even in a different version.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, some movies that have a big last act surprise are well worth revisiting but this one, not so much. I enjoyed the movie for the most part but once was enough.

Unknown said...

Spot on Jeff. I mostly dug the film and thought the first hour was brilliant. The handicam work got a little annoying at times-the scene where Sarah sprints away from the house gave me a minor headache due to it's choppiness.

I don't know what it is, but 2012 seems to be the year where Hollywood has no idea how to end a film. The 3 big releases thus far (Devil Inside, Woman in Black and now The Silent House) all have endings that range from head scratching to (in Devil's case) fistshakingly infuriating.

Jeff Allard said...

Mike, I agree that Devil Inside's ending was an outrageous "fuck you!" to the audience that dropped their hard-earned cash on a ticket but I'm more accepting of both WiB and Silent House's endings.

WiB, especially, I thought worked just fine. I'm probably in the minority for thinking so, though. As for Silent House, I can see some frustration to a point but I think it's one of those situations where any ending would've been a letdown to a large portion of the audience - that as soon as the filmmakers put their cards on the table that any conclusion would've been met with a "that's it?" reaction.

That said, I do think that the one thing that really counts when putting a horror movie together is the ending. You can have the most mediocre-to-poor movie but if you send people out buzzing, you've got a hit. Conversely, you could have the best film but if the ending is botched, the audience will instantly forget everything else they liked about the movie.

Franco Macabro said...

I felt so cheated with Open Water, I didnt really enjoy it that much. Again, same with that movie, I didnt hate it, but I didnt love it. After seeing Open Water I felt like "thats it? I was expecting more!" Still, the "one shot" thing they present us with this movie sounds interesting, I'll probably see it on dvd just for that.

Aaron White said...

Disappointed to hear not many enjoyed it. I'm still planning to check it out, tho, cuz this whetted my appetite:

Timmy Crabcakes said...

I ended up watching the original as a Netflix rental... and hmmmm...
Certainly not a 'bad' movie... but even from the beginning it didn't fully engage... or surprise me when it got around to its revelations.
Assuming the remake went pretty much along the same lines I fully understand your lack of enthusiasm to revisit it or see this other version.
I might rent the remake when it comes available, just out of curiousity regarding the performance of the actress.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the original, Knob! It's funny - after just a couple of weeks, Silent House has pretty much disappeared from my memory. It's definitely not destined to be one of 2012 better genre offerings. That said, if this is the low end of what 2012 has to offer that's pretty good.

Natashalh said...

Hm, I may have to check this out. I hadn't even heard about this remake because I've been too busy with school and work to pay attention to the world!