The US remake of the 2011 Uruguayan chiller La Casa Muda – cheekily, the frothing review quotes on the press release are actually in reference to the original film’s power to distress and alarm, and not this version’s – Silent House is a fairly tight, if generic home invasion tale that seems to rest entirely on its gimmick, namely that it’s filmed in one continous 88-minute shot.
Admittedly, this is incredibly effective, building tension to the point of agony as we follow bland everygirl Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) through the oppressively claustrophobic prison of her pitch-black holiday home. The windows boarded up after local kids through rocks through them, as first her father John (Adam Trese), then her uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) are bludgeoned and dragged off by an unseen force and she shrieks and scuttles through seemingly endlessly labyrinthine corridors and cellars (how big is this bloody house?) looking for new cupboards to hide in – that elusive escape route that hasn’t been inconveniently nailed shut or padlocked.
Every hoary old trope of the dark family secret and the home invasion are wheeled out to reasonable effect: creaking stairs, lights going out, shapes behind plastic sheets, phantom children and a big reveal that’s so obvious when it comes that you’re wondering who on earth can be so slow as to need it explained to them. The twist itself is such a well-worn cliche now that to even mention films it’s similar to would be a spoiler (Highlight to ruin the film for yourself): 2003’s twisted Korean delight A Tale Of Two Sisters and its passable 2009 US remake The Uninvited, and, of course, 2003’s Switchblade Romance). Arguably, the original went too far in making the real nature of events shockingly explicit, but it leaves this movie’s reluctance to really force your face into it looking strangely coy for all its big fanfare-laden, exposition-heavy reveal.
Directed by Open Water‘s Chris Kentis and producer Laura Lau, there’s a similar focus on not what our protagonist sees, but on their reaction to what they see or feel, heightening the already nail-grinding tension with close-ups of a wheezing, teary Olsen stuffing her fist in her mouth, clattering around in the darkness or fumbling with the off-switch of a torch.
For all its predictability and cliché, a strong lead and a compelling, driving hook to lure you into the unfolding nightmare transform Silent House from something stock and forgettable into something worth watching, although no less forgettable and certainly not a patch on the original.