Elizabeth Olsen made a huge splash last year with Martha Marcy May Marlene, a film that I personally did not like but fully understood why most people enjoyed it. Even though I didn’t like her character, there was no denying the fact that Olsen gave a brilliant, contemplative and thoughtful performance. She stole the film and ever since then I’ve not only become a fan, but have also eagerly awaiting to see what she would do next. Her follow-up performance is in the film Silent House and while it may not be as affecting and emotional as MMMM, it is still without a doubt one of the scariest films I’ve seen this year.
Silent House follows Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) as she spends a couple of days in her childhood house trying to restore it with her father in order to sell it. This house is in a somewhat rural area and because no one has lived there for quite some time it has been vandalized almost completely. This has left the house with electricity and with shattered windows that have then been bordered up. In other words, there may be daylight outside but once in the house there’s only darkness except for whatever flashlights are around. After the Sarah is visited by a childhood friend she does not remember, she starts hearing footsteps in areas where no one is suppose to be. Gradually terror and paranoia take over as she realizes there’s something seriously wrong going in the house.
As much as I like Elizabeth Olsen, the primary element that instantly grabbed me about Silent House was the manner in which it was shot. A lot of the promo of the film claimed that everything from beginning to end was shot in one continuous long take. While I don’t buy that in the slightest, I do like the fact that the film is a collection of long takes. Long takes, if you didn’t know already, are really fascinating to me as they inject the proceedings with a visual quality and a feeling that is very specific. When done correctly it can produce a film experience that is as intensely effective as it is visually stimulating. Co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau know this and they use this technique to great effect in Silent House.
I’ve always felt that sometimes during certain scenes, especially those within horror films, there will be a cut that somewhat halts the momentum and as a result decreases the impact of the fright. But with a long take it is all continuous and there is no stop to the momentum. It is because of this technique that Silent House works so well. The camera is always following the character and because there are no cuts, there is a limitation to what the viewer can see. That creates a sort claustrophobic effect that increases the tension to such a degree that your body will strained for most of the film. Silent and dark houses have been featured countless times in scary films but this has been one of the rare times were the environment has actually felt both real and oddly enough immense in scope. There are always places we haven’t seen before, it’s like a massive dark prison with long and confined hallways.
Elizabeth Olsen’s performance isn’t anything extraordinary, but it is good enough to both sustain the viewer and carry us through the mysterious and freaky things that keep occurring in the house. All in all Silent House delivers the good much to my surprise. The film is genuinely scary, freaky and creepy so much so that I haven’t literally screamed with a film such as this in a while. The us of long take is what make everything work so well and while some parts may disorient some people, for the purpose of the film that techniques was a brilliant aesthetic decision. It is constantly raising the momentum and making you really feel the fright.