Horror films are always looking for the next gimmick. They were quick to jump on the 3D craze with films such as My Bloody Valentine 3D and Piranha 3D. And after the success of Cloverfield, the genre went into full exploit mode of found footage films with a horde of releases ranging from Paranormal Activity to Apollo 18.
The latest genre device to be attempted is the single take horror film. Also known as a ‘long take’, the idea is to capture moving shots through the use of a Steadicam that follows our characters through the film without any editing cuts. Alfred Hitchcock intended to film Rope in one continuous shot, but technology back in 1948 did not allow for more than 1000 feet of film thus thwarting his proposal. But now, thanks to the over-use of digital cameras, the idea of a single shot full-length feature can now be realized and over the past few years we have seen attempts in films such as Russian Ark, Timecode and PVC-1.
Silent House attempts to bring the single take idea to the horror genre and directors Chris Kentis (Open Water) and Laura Lau do an admirable job in carefully constructing a tension filled film while likely cueing their camera men to duck, move and weave away from the film’s principle actors.
Silent House stars budding actress Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) as Sarah who has accompanied her father back to the family’s lakeside home where they are expecting to fix up the dilapidated old residence and put it on the open market.
We don’t get much back-story in reference to our characters, but it is clear that the relationship between Sarah and her father (Adam Trese) is unique. The camera work is hardly distracting as Sarah explores the various rooms of the house and Kentis and Lau expertly establish the setting and mood for the film not feeling the genre pressure to immediately inject jump scares into the proceedings.
As the story moves forward we watch as young Sarah runs from haunts that infect the home. Her past, particularly the past with her uncle and father are revealed as a source for the ominous events unfolding around her. Events that might not result in everyone leaving the home alive.
The first thing that needs discussion when reviewing Silent House is the brilliant work of Elizabeth Olsen. A sister of the more famous Olsen Twins, Elizabeth is electric as the tormented Sarah and it is one of the better acting roles you are likely to see in a modern day horror film.
As for the gimmick…well, it is just that. The trailer’s advertize Silent House to have been completed in one take, but in reality, the film was shot in 10-minute segments and then carefully edited in such a way as to ‘hide’ the cuts.
And it is for this reason that I wonder – what’s the point? If you are not going to be a true continuous shot, why try and falsify the attempt? There are moments in the film where you see Sarah simply stop and look around and you wonder if this is so that the cameramen could get into position for her next movement. But why go through the efforts of such production staff choreographing especially for a target audience that will hardly give two shits about the process?
These questions are only further punctuated by the fact that Silent House isn’t all that compelling. The first half builds the necessary suspense and leaves the audience with plenty of questions that will need reckoning, but by the turn of the half-way reel, the whole idea is strained and teetering on boring.
Still, there is lot to recommend in Silent House. Particularly Olsen who could likely make painting an outhouse interesting. But if you are looking to be scared – if you are looking for a jaw dropping horror film, Silent House will not represent your interest in full.