Silent House: A Deafening Exercise In Clever Filmmaking

9 03 2012

A remake of the Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda, Silent House is a single-shot thriller starring Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the younger sister of those twins). This no-editing, one-take spin on the genre has been the crux of the movie’s marketing campaign, inviting audiences to “experience 88 minutes of real fear caught in real time.” And, thankfully enough, it manages to do this while avoiding the burgeoning cliche that is “found footage” (more on that later). Here’s the breakdown:

Sarah (Olsen) and her dad, John (Adam Trese), and uncle, Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), head out to the family lakeside retreat, working to clean up the dilapidated house in order to sell it. But not all is as it seems and when a violent menace begins wreaking havoc on the trapped occupants, Sarah must find a way to escape and uncover the truth.

The Monkey: While it may have seemed gimmicky in some of the marketing materials, the single-take technique worked extremely well here. Not only was it mind-bendingly impressive (can you imagine messing up and having to start over?), it lent a certain sense of urgency and freshness to a relatively tried-and-true concept. Additionally, Silent House managed to capture some of that “found footage” feel without actually having to come up with some half-way believable contrivance of a story to convince the audience that a camera would be rolling the whole time. It also forced Olsen to carry the movie entirely on her own, a task which she tackled quite successfully. While the audience is introduced to Peter, John and few others, the camera never leaves Sarah, making this movie single-shot as well as single point-of-view. And without revealing too much, it’s this myopic perspective that keeps the movie from feeling like every other female-led horror flick.

As far as storytelling goes, there’s not much to tell without answering too many questions. The build-up to the scares are equally divided between horror-cliche-jump-outs and genuinely creepy. In particular, a bit with the eerie flash of a Polaroid camera will make you think twice about ever taking a photo again.

The Weasel: Again, without spoilers, it’s hard to delve into some of the deeper issues with Silent House, but I’ll give it a go. The ending. The movie relies on its clever camera work to distract the audience from the rather haphazard and rushed climax. The filmmakers seem to be going for a certain reaction, yet viewers are left confused, but not in the good Inception kind of way. Unlike a clever “thinker,” where you walk away finding new and unearthed threads of subtext, Silent House only becomes increasingly riddled with plot holes and unanswerable questions the more you think about it. It’s as if the filmmakers were saying, “See, wasn’t that fun? Now leave the theatre and don’t ask any questions…move along!” Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to comply with this sentiment, as you quickly realize the movie demands a repeat viewing but wouldn’t actually be any better for it.

A wildly inventive take on the terrified-female-horror-victim concept, Silent House is definitely worth a look, especially for the smattering of decent scares and its unique single-take approach.

4 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Does the “single-shot” concept seem clever or gimmicky? Did Olsen do a decent job carrying the movie? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Less Horror and More Dark Fairy Tale

29 08 2011

A remake of the 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a Guillermo del Toro produced “horror” film starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and  Bailee Madison. Here’s the breakdown:

When Sally (Madison) moves in with her architect father (Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Holmes), she unwittingly uncovers a centuries old secret and unleashes a living nightmare.

The Monkey: The tone of this movie was rock solid. From the set design to the music; from the cinematography to the script, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark thoroughly maintained its “creepiness” factor. The sprawling Victorian mansion became a character all its own, with its blood-red stained glass, creaking stairs, secret chambers, roaring fireplaces, labyrinthine gardens and classic fixtures. It was a haunted house from backyard to buttress.

Del Toro brought much of what made his critically-acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth a success to this endeavor as well. A classic story, with genre tropes twisted just enough to feel refreshingly original and genuinely creepy. More of a “dark fairy tale” than a true horror film, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark played out its fantastical elements without apology and del Toro’s contributions continued to shine throughout, especially regarding the honesty of the storytelling (not to mention his almost infamous creature designs).

While the “Don’t go in there!” moments were myriad, it lent to the overall “We’ve seen this before but we don’t mind seeing it again” feeling that permeated the whole movie. Fairy tales are grounded on archetypes and familiar plots…so it becomes all about the embellishments. And there were many here. A truly blood-chilling opening sequence, creepy music-box music, grotesque drawings and even a homage-ish shower/bath scene, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark rests firmly on the bones of tried-and-true ghost stories, allowing the filmmakers room to get creative with the trappings.

The Weasel: Unfortunatley, the movie was not exactly marketed well. Touted as a true horror film, the movie was much more thriller, much more dark fairy tale. And while there were wonderful tastes of this (especially when the story began to focus on its own mythology), the fantastical elements seemed almost out of place, in that it kept the movie from becoming actually terrifying. The fantastic nature of the story should have been given more prominence.

The acting was neither here nor there; decent enough to support the story, without being distracting.

There was a significant portion of the movie dedicated to the family drama surrounding Sally’s estranged parents and Kim, the new girlfriend. This relationship was played up even more in the final moments of the film; however, the build-up was shoddy at best and unbelievable at worst. Tonally, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was never quite sure of itself, and the mismatched drama/horror/fantasy pieces were evidence of this.

In the end, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a big-budget camp-side ghost story, an extended episode of the Twilight Zone, a twisted fairy tale. A bit of mis-marketing and some tonal inconsitencies aside, don’t be afraid to give this movie a chance.

And on a side note: there was NO reason for this movie to be rated R. This was practically cable TV ready, with no gore, swearing, nudity…R for “Violence and Terror”? Please. The most ridiculous rating I’ve ever seen.

2.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark a decent remake? Did you find it more horror or fantasy? Share your thoughts in the comments!





The Crazies: Infectious Scares Cured with a Dose of Predictability

1 03 2010

A remake of the 1973 George A. Romero cult classic, The Crazies is yet another attempt to mix a horrible infection with a gory horror plot-line. Here’s the breakdown:

After the citizens of Ogden Marsh, Iowa start acting strange, Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) must find out what is going on – and find a way to escape it.

The Monkey: While toeing the line of “zombie movie” closely, The Crazies manages an original feel. The infectious outbreak and subsequent military actions all feel relatively realistic, making the scare factor that much more visceral. Timothy Olyphant plays the determined sheriff well, managing to stay sufficiently scared and brave at the same time.

There are plenty of scary moments; however, they mostly consist of “jump-out” scares.

The best parts of the movie were when uninfected people were forced to violence and the line between “The Crazies” and the survivors became blurred – this felt like a much bigger plot device that was begging to be explored, but…

The Weasel: …it wasn’t. Just when it felt like the movie would actually try and say something about society, violence, survival…it reverted to a predictable horror film.

The viewer is never really convinced the main characters are in any danger. The rag-tag band of survivors is, as expected, killed off one-by-one as the movie progresses, but everyone knows the hero will make it (even after an Indiana Jones-style “Nuke the Fridge” escape at the movie’s climax).

Surprisingly, the movie wasn’t as gory as anticipated. Some viewers will like this and others will see it as a disappointment. As the movie starts to unravel towards cliche, a little bit of creative gore could have done this movie some good.

The movie is set up for a sequel; however, I’m not sure viewers will want to return to cover familiar territory.

A movie that truly delivers? No. A fun night out at the movies? Absolutely.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was The Crazies a worthy remake? How does it stack up to the original? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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