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Silent House

The horror genre is quickly becoming a gimmick. It seems that actual scares don’t really matter, just so long as the film is shot in a quirky way. Found footage is all the rage these days, but for every solid Paranormal Activity, you have a Grave Encounters or The Devil Inside. Films are simply imitating others, riding their coattails if you will, rather than coming up with a new and interesting idea to gain exposure. This week’s Silent House isn’t a found footage film, but the point remains. The 88 minute movie is meant to look like it was done all in one take with zero cuts so the events occur in real time and the end result is a gimmick in search of a story.

The film begins with Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) sitting on some rocks near a creek outside of a rickety old house. She is there along with her father, John (Adam Trese), to fix the place up for sale, but once they get inside, she hears a noise coming from upstairs. Her father goes up to investigate, but then disappears. She later finds him bloody and bruised, but still breathing, so she begins to look for a way out. Unfortunately, the windows are boarded up (for no discernible reason), all the doors are locked and the one key that would let her out has mysteriously vanished.

Silent House is a remake of the 2010 Spanish film, La Casa Muda, and much of what was done in that film remains here. The one shot gimmick is ever present, the basic story remains the same and many of the scares are recreated practically down to the letter. Aside from the gimmick (both do a pretty good job of hiding probable cuts), the original film does everything better, which certainly doesn’t say much for Silent House given that the majority of its source material’s moments culminated in a bewildered “that’s it?”

Both do a good job of building suspense, but their eventual revelations are hardly frightening, which effectively makes those builds moot. Creepy little girl apparitions, slamming doors and an overused twist are clichéd and boring. The twist in question (which I will, of course, not give away) differs a bit in this movie from the original, but its unreservedness in its clue dropping, which include blatant musical cues and barely cryptic dialogue, make what is to come fairly obvious. What the two twists from each movie do have in common is that once they are revealed, they bring into question the legitimacy of everything you saw leading up to it. The specifics of what happens may be different, but the effect is the same: they don’t make sense.

Aside from its technical prowess (that one shot illusion sure is convincing), the biggest thing Silent House has going for it is its lead star. Elizabeth Olsen, who many claim was snubbed of an Oscar nomination for her powerhouse performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is very good here, even if the occasional tweak of her supposedly frightened face in close-up makes her look more constipated than afraid. She plays the perfect vulnerable girl and she manages to make us care about her, but a movie like this needs more than just a performance. It needs ideas. Without ideas, it becomes the same old song and dance we’ve sat through countless times. The horror genre is in trouble and needs fixing. Silent House is evidence enough of that.

Silent House receives 2/5