Remaking a revered foreign film is a thankless, usually insurmountable task. But what if the original film is not all that good to begin with? The Silent House, a Uruguayan horror from 2010, was distinguished largely for its admittedly impressive single-take gimmick, filmed on a Canon 5D as one apparently continuous 78-minute sequence (a spurious claim under scrutiny, though). Much like the source material, this low-fi Hollywood remake, Silent House, is a technically impressive feat – and better-acted for sure – but let down by a dearth of scares and uneven pace.
Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is staying at a lakeside vacation home with her father, John (Adam Trese) and uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), and they are fixing it up for sale. It has no electricity, and has been set upon by vandals constantly; thus it isn’t much of a surprise when the house is invaded by a gang of intruders, and Sarah has to fight her way to freedom. Strange goings on – including the sight of a young girl – suggest there is more to this story than meets the eye.
Silent House is a remake as pointlessly perfunctory as any, but at least directors Chris Kentis and Claire Lau are hardly working over a classic here. The single-take gimmick – this time confessed by the filmmakers to be a clever confection, ala Hitchcock’s superb Rope – is well-executed, and film buffs will have fun feeling out the seams, a few of which are blindingly obvious, while others are virtually impossible to spot. Nevertheless, the technical limitations of the prosumer 5D do become apparent during scenes with plenty of movement; as Sarah runs through a field, the eyeball-punishing lack of focus is sure to cause migraines for many audience members.
On a more basic level, though, the film simply isn’t all that scary. Much like the original film, too much time is spent in the set-up, an unfortunate by-product of adhering to the single-take premise, and when it should ratchet up the tension, it manages to be only mildly unsettling at best. Also problematic is the style; though certifiably not a “found footage” film, the actors still have to perform with the camera in mind, not closing doors behind them so that the cameraman can quickly shuffle in. It creates a distancing effect between character and audience; the camera becomes an awkward middle party, disconnecting us.
There is, however, one element of this remake which far outshines the original, and that is the lead performance; Elizabeth Olsen, fresh off a star-making turn in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is fully committed to her role here. We follow her for the duration of the film, and while she spends the majority of it hysterical, she is convincing enough that it doesn’t becoming too numbing. That the directors chose to adorn the film with an intrusive score and ambient, “atmospheric” sound effects rather than simply let Olsen do her thing is disappointing. If nothing, the Paranormal Activity series has taught us that the banality of silence is intensely creepy in its own right.
Like the original, though, it truly falters at the finish line, going full-tilt psychotic and delivering a twist borrowed from a similarly disappointing decade-old horror which shan’t be named (for fear of spoilers). Olsen remains convincing to the final moment, but it is in the service of an ignoble cause; a smug, overeager conceit which did not particularly work in the original, and in this more elaborately surreal take, definitely does not.
A confounding work for sure; Elizabeth Olsen is perfectly committed to her role, yet once you get past the technical wizardry, it – like the Uruguayan original – quickly becomes tedious.
Silent House is in UK cinemas from today.
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