Death and the dark are two of the most common fears simply because they are fear of the same thing: the unknown. That’s why it’s so hard do develop a satisfying ending to a horror film – once the terror is explained, it is no longer terrifying. Silent House, the new movie from directors Chris Lentis and Laura Lau, is 65 minutes of pure fright that’s washed away by the final 20 minutes.
Based on true events, the story begins as a young woman named Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) travels with her father (Adam Trese) to their old lake house with the intention of cleaning it up so that they can sell it. But as the day progresses they begin to understand that they are actually not alone. When Sarah discovers the unconscious body of her father, she realizes that she must escape the house before it becomes her tomb.
Shot in what appears to be a continuous take and in real time, Silent House effectively locks the viewer in with Sarah for 85 straight minutes, and her fear becomes the audience's. While this may sound like a cheap gimmick, it proves to be a very effective way for the directors to tell their story. Most importantly, though, the camera work doesn’t draw attention to itself. Movie-goers may find themselves occasionally saying to themselves, “I can’t believe this is all one shot,” but it fails to be a distraction and never pulls you out of the story.
Even more importantly, Olsen never buckles under the pressure of the real time format. In lesser hands Sarah would just be a woman running from room to room and screaming, but the actress brings much more than that to the table. From visible shakes to wide eyes on the verge of tears to powerful silent screams while hiding from her stalker, Olsen is filled with real terror and it translates perfectly off the screen and successfully punches the audience in the gut.
While perhaps handcuffed by the fact that the story is based on a real case, the finale only comes as a surprise to those who have never watched a thriller before. Even worse is the fact that the big finale is telegraphed from the start. Throughout the movie Kentis and Lau pepper in small hints hoping that you will only put all the pieces together at the last minute, but it’s all such simple math that you actually end up just waiting for the reveal. Fortunately the suspense and lead performance by Olsen will keep movie-goers invested, but it sadly does leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Given its format the film is exceptionally well planned and there is enough tension that backs of theater seats will end up with permanent dents, but the end is so incredibly disappointing that it’s hard to look past. I would almost go as far as to recommend walking out just as the movie is about to wrap up if not only because the perfect ending you can imagine in your mind is guaranteed to be better than the one that Chris Kentis and Laura Lau present.