Friday, March 9, 2012

SILENT HOUSE, from Chris Kentis & Laura Lau, offers a one-note, real-time scare fest

Is it time, perhaps, to go back in the water? The Open Water, that is, still one of the most unsettling movies I have ever seen, made by writer/director Chris Kentis (below, left) and producer/
cinematographer Laura Lau (below, right). The pair are back again, nine years later, with another scare movie: one that, this time, they tell us, was shot in (or near) real time. With their new film the two act as co-directors, with Ms Lau adapting the screenplay from an earlier, Uruguayan moviemade by Gustavo Hernándezof nearly the same name, and which happens to have been Uruguay's selection for the Best Foreign-Language Film sweepstakes at this year's "Oscars."  The resulting film, SILENT HOUSE, stars the latest next-big-thing, Elizabeth Olsen, recently of Martha Marcy May Marlene, as a young woman oddly trapped inside a big and unduly dark family homestead.

The movie is not, thank goodness, a one-woman show. There are several other characters -- the young woman's father, her uncle, and a old friend from earlier times -- plus a suggested wisp of someone else, maybe a child. But mostly this is Miss Olsen's show (see below), in which she either looks scared or somewhat catatonic. (It seems clear from the opening that all is not quite right with this family, so the catatonia might be blamed on that.) Her behavior, as the film goes on, does not make much sense, but then, eventually, it will.

Whether you will care, however, by that point in the film, I'm not sure. I certainly didn't, having grown very tired of the young woman, the house and the movie itself. Ms Olsen is very good at showing us fear, but a little of this goes an awfully long way. And since the scares are fairly predictable, in any case, they begin to seem like vamping. Once you realize where the movie is going (about the halfway point), the further twists and turns seem more like being fed a road map than the proper jolts or surprises.

In addition to taking place in "real time," the movie is said to have been photographed in a single, uninterrupted shot -- similar to the manner in which one of the best films of the decade, Salvatore Maira's Valzer, was done. But that film was about a lot more than trying to scare us silly (while leaving some of us a little annoyed).

In Open Water, for all its amateur quality, the fear seemed absolutely real and utterly called-for, building to pit-of-the-stomach terror that also took on a kind of existential dread. Here the scares seem more manipulated than anything else -- and not very well, at that. If you are easily frightened and have not seen many movies of this genre, then by all means, pay your money and take your chances. My last scribbled note to myself before the screening ended, however, were the words, "obvious crap."

Silent House (only 88 minutes but still too long) from Open Road Films and Liddel Entertainment, opens today, March 9, in what I am guessing will be a fairly wide release. But after checking the distributors' and the Facebook web sites for the movie, I am unable to pull up a single theater where the film is playing. So you're on your own here.

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