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!


I Am Number Four: A Weak Set-Up To What Could Be A Promising Sequel

18 02 2011

Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron make their major big-screen debuts in I Am Number Four, based on the young adult novel by Pittacus Lore (a pen name for James Frey’s “writing factory” worker, Jobie Hughes – more on that interesting tale here). Here’s the breakdown:

“John” (Pettyfer) is a Loric alien, one of nine sent to Earth for their protection, the last of their kind. The evil Mogadorians are slowly killing off the Loriens – they’ve killed Numbers 1 – 3 and John is next on their list. With the help of his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John must do all he can to blend in to the small town of Paradise, Ohio. But when he falls in love with photographer Sarah (Agron), befriends the outcast Sam (Callan McAuliffe), and discovers more and more about his heritage, John finds himself on a life-changing adventure.

The Monkey: The acting was surprisingly good. Pettyfer is sufficiently smoldering and competent as the teenage leading man; Agron proves she has the potential to overcome her Glee roots; and Olyphant brings a much needed maturity with a solid performance as the archetypal selfless guardian. Relative newcomer Callan McAuliffe was an unfortunately underutilized member of the cast; his role as Sam was reminiscent of classic film sidekicks and one can only hope he’ll have a much larger part in any future installments of the series.

The movie’s third act was the most satisfying, bringing together the many story threads in a fiery explosion of action, remarkable effects and witty dialogue. I Am Number Four‘s gangbuster ending bodes well for the obvious sequel, presumably based on the as-yet published The Power of Six. And speaking of six – Teresa Palmer’s character, Number Six, while a late-comer, was much-needed and highly-welcome, giving the ending the necessary kick it needed and making me wish the movie was about her and titled I Am Number Six instead. She’s as bad-ass as they come, kicking, stabbing and shooting all the while delivering biting one-liners in a lilting Australian accent. Thanks to her, I’ll always remember that “Red Bull is for pussies.”

The Weasel: Alas, a decent final act does not a good movie make. The first two-thirds of I Am Number Four plays out like a freakish amalgamation of about every young adult fantasy series you can think of. From the Voldemort-esque baddies to the Twilight-esque (and vomit-inducing) angsty love story, I Am Number Four offers nothing new to the “I’m-an-awkward-teenager-because-I’m-not-human-and-I’m-destined-to-save-the-world-and-be-emo-while-I-do-it” genre. But it wasn’t just that the movie ripped so carelessly from previous material – it was that it did it so poorly. The Mogadorians were supposed to be scary, but came off like laughable buffoons; the love story between John and Sarah was supposed to be the crux of the movie, yet it was so ridiculously unbelievable and forced, I was practically begging for Robert Pattinson’s sparkly skin and Taylor Lautner’s abs. And when actors utter lines like, “She’s more than a girl” and “I think of nothing but you,” you have to wonder how the director kept a straight face behind the camera. It’s a credit to the actors and the special effects crew that this script was turned into an even remotely watchable movie. Writers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar should stick to TV, which they can barely manage anyway.

The last 30 minutes make this movie almost worth sitting through, if for no other reason than to see Teresa Palmer’s Number Six be a total bad-ass. I’m hoping there is a sequel, as long as it uses her and McAuliffe’s Sam to greater effect.

2.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Have you read the book? Do you think Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron have successful film career potential? Are you looking forward to a sequel? Share your thoughts in the comments!