Review: Silent House

Elizabeth Olsen stars in a skillful and unexpectedly insidious little thriller.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


The buzz on Silent House all seems to stem from its gimmick: it’s shot in real time, in what appears (at least) to be a single, uninterrupted take. It’s a pretty good gimmick, legitimately Hitchcockian in its attempt to spice up an otherwise familiar tale – a home invasion thriller with a young woman in peril – via some challenging cinematic techniques. But if Silent House has value beyond a mere genre exercise, it stems from the film’s final minutes, which deals with some pretty heavy issues that horror movies, and indeed most movies in general, don’t normally dare to contend with.

But this reversal is in the final act, so I can’t talk about it in good conscience. It’s a very annoying offshoot of “Red Eye Syndrome,” something I’ve described at length in the past. Again, Red Eye Syndrome describes a film whose inciting incident or marketable gimmick occurs at the end of the first act as a twist, making the movie impossible to advertise without betraying the story, or at least forcing the audience to be half an hour ahead of the protagonist from the get-go. So let’s all coin the phrase “Silent House Syndrome” to describe a film like this, whose biggest talking point is in its final moments, making it impossible to discuss, at least eloquently, without utterly ruining the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

Should you see it though? Silent House doesn’t offer anything particularly new to the horror genre, but then what does these days? We go to horror movies to experience the same types of thrills over and over again, asking only for a few uncommon twists or unexpected subversions along the way. That’s Silent House, all right. The standard “Boo!” scares and ominous creaks are at play, and despite the unconventional filmmaking style they work more or less in a conventionally scary way. For the majority of these proceedings, a young woman played by Elizabeth Olsen is endangered and we feel for her, thanks largely to the charisma such a talented actress brings to the material.

She spends a lot of time panting, but she’s really good at panting. Silent House works beyond its virtuoso camerawork and thematically intriguing final moments because Elizabeth Olsen can hold your attention for 90 minutes more or less entirely by herself. You even forgive her for such freshman horror mistakes as running back inside the obviously precarious homestead, because hey, she’s not thinking straight. Olsen conveys that psychological fragility remarkably well. Is it too much pressure to say that after this and Martha Marcy May Marlene, we’re all expecting big things from her? Will that give her a complex? She seems to be the thoughtful sort. Let’s hope she can make the most of her potential.

Silent House defies long, in-depth reviews because the bulk of the film is very straightforward, though effective, and the real meat of any intelligent conversation about its virtues or even flaws stem from the very end of the story, so discussing it would be rude to both the directors and their potential audience. In essence, they’re forcing me to ask audiences to take my word for it: Silent House is a skillful thriller with something unexpectedly insidious on its mind. It won’t hold up to the classics of the genre, but it deserves to be seen, enjoyed and maybe even appreciated if you find its ultimate conclusion as intriguingly subversive as I do.