Silent House is the third feature by writing and directing duo Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (who divided audiences in 2003 with the water-treading shark-shocker Open Water) .
The extremely gifted and game Elizabeth Olsen (late of Martha Marcy May Marlene and soon of almost certain stardom) plays Sarah, a low-key type who’s helping her father and uncle (90s indie cinema fixture Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens, respectively) renovate the beat-up house the family spent their summers in.
Before too long, a suspicious woman claiming to be a childhood friend of Sarah’s shows up at the front door, and it’s only a matter of minutes before Sarah is being stalked around the house and dashing from room to room (including the compulsory collective ‘don’t go in the BASEMENT!’ audience groan sequence). The camera stays glued to Sarah the entire time, and the effect is powerfully claustrophobic.
All the beats are hit. There are unexpected knocks on the door of a house set conveniently out of mobile-phone range; there are poorly disguised tensions between characters which will flare as the drama unfolds; and, indeed, our heroine even manages her own “why are you doing this?” as the seemingly arbitrary trauma is meted out. The tension is almost unbearable for long sections.
But Kentis and Lau – adapting a Uruguayan film called La Casa Muda – clearly aspire to something beyond the typical fare.
Aside from even the extreme aesthetic choices (the film ostensibly unfolds in a single take, though debate rages on in the more tech-minded corners of the internet about whether or not the directors have been entirely honest about this), the filmmakers are attempting to introduce a richer psychological element to the home-invasion myth.
Though it would be unfair to elaborate, lest major developments be spoiled, it must be said that there is a twist – with a capital T. The script aims for provocative, but, in a funny turn of events, probably hews even closer to exploitative than the usual horror hijinks.