Though it feels like it's been much longer, audiences have been subjected to marketing campaigns built around the concept of 3D-as-experience since at least 2009. Which is why it was both refreshing and a bit surprising when trailers began to roll out for "Silent House" built not around that now-tired theater gimmick but instead around the concept of "real-time horror." Commercials and materials have been up-front about the fact that the film is presented in one, uncut take. As far as filmmaking gimmicks go, it's relatively rare, but with a cinematic lineage that includes none other than Alfred Hitchcock.
Directing team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau did not formulate this idea from scratch, instead adopting it from the 2010 Uruguayan film from which "Silent House" was adapted. In both films, the camera follows a young woman trapped inside a decrepit house. The American film features breakout sensation Elizabeth Olsen, who's notable for being the only Olsen sister not featured on "Full House." Olsen's character, Sarah, arrives at the house with her father and uncle. The three plan to fix up the old vacation spot before selling it. Vandals have left the house in bad shape: windows boarded up, garbage strewn around, and no working power. This creates a nearly perfect setting for a home invasion styled thriller.
Kentis and Lau's biggest success comes in kicking the action off relatively quickly, and then relying on the uncut nature of the film to pull the viewers through the trauma with Sarah. After what seems like only a few minutes of introduction, creaks and bumps begin to rattle the protagonist. These quickly escalate. While I personally was skeptical that the "real-time" nature of the film would work in its favor, the choice never became a distraction, and moreover, it opened the door for some interesting shot selections. There's a kinetic aspect to the proceedings that similar films -- think "The Strangers" or "Ils (Them)" -- lack. Here, Sarah is living a home invasion nightmare, but we feel just a little closer if only because we never look away.
As with the aforementioned "Strangers" or "Ils," the risk with a movie like "Silent House" is that it can become something of a one trick pony -- one location, one primary character, one threat. Here the risk is doubled because of the uncut nature of the film. If the gimmick doesn't work for you, the film is probably not working either. That being said, Kentis and Lau have the wherewithal to spice things up enough visually that it carries us beyond some of the more rote generic moments.
Subtle at first, a true mystery emerges at the film's core that ultimately takes over and drives the action through the final act. Genre experts will likely unravel the resolution well before it arrives, but that doesn't mean the twist isn't well executed. Like any good film that eventually turns itself around, the reveal only serves to deepen "Silent House" as it is explaining it.
"Silent House" likely won't be reinventing the way people think about or appreciate the sub-genre of home invasion films, but that doesn't mean it's not worth seeing. If nothing else, the craftsmanship on display is worth the price of admission, and Elizabeth Olsen makes a strong case for future consideration in any scream queen-esque role in which she has interest. Best of all, unlike 3D films that bill themselves as an experience worth extra on the ticket price, "Silent House" truly is an experience, and you won't have to pay a single extra dollar to get it.