a theatre, film & pop culture review
The girl can scream. Construing her seemingly calm, cherubic face into one of absolute terror — eyes wide and tearing, darting to and fro — she laugh-cries, her entire body alternating between uncontrollable trembling and frozen terror, as her breaths burst forth in startling gasps that wrack her from limb to limb. And then, an abrupt thump is heard or a shadow flits across the room, and she’s off and running, scrambling, desperately clawing her way through a moldy, dilapidated, super-creaky house in the middle of nowhere.
And that’s really the entire premise of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau’s Silent House: do and show just enough (ie. next to nothing) to scare the bejeezus out of Olsen’s Sarah Murphy and consequentially, us. The plot of this Hollywood horror remake of the 2010 Uruguayan festival favorite, La Casa Muda (which by trailer alone, looks scarier, and do we really need a remake of a film that was made two years ago?), is slim at best: Sarah and her dad (a stiff and boring Adam Trese) are fixing up their old house in order to sell it. Creepy Uncle Peter is along to help (an equally stiff and boring Eric Sheffer Stevens), local delinquents have broken the windows (now boarded up) and rats have chewed through the electrical lines (lantern-light only now, folks!), so of course things are bound to go bump in the night. Oh yeah, and it’s based on a “true story,” naturally, adding to the horror of it all.
The husband-and-wife filmmaking duo who brought us that most low-key and low-budget of summer indie horror flicks, Open Water (another “true story”), hasn’t exactly further developed their below-the-surface terror-inducing techniques, but they have, once again, adeptly and swiftly built a film based on a single feeling alone. There’s no story to speak of, the characters are skeletal at best, but the titillating dread is real. For the 88 minutes following Sarah’s arrival at the most haunted-looking of houses, we follow her in what appears to be one long, Hitchcockian-like shot, with tear-stained close-ups and jumpy Blair Witch-ian handheld movement. We don’t know what made that sound in the corner, we don’t know whose leg that is we just saw lumber by from beneath the bed, and honestly we don’t really care. Because up until the lame M. Night-rip-off of a “twist” ending, it’s enough to just be terrified. And Kentis, Lau and Olsen do a terrific job of quickly building and then uncomfortably maintaining a crazy-amount of tension (my entire body ached from worry by the time I left the theatre).
I haven’t yet seen Martha Marcy May Marlene (it currently rests atop my Netflix queue, awaiting its DVD release on the 20th of this month), but that creepy-culty indie super-hit appears to be in the same moody vein (though obviously more highbrow) as this, Olsen’s newest horrorfest. Whether or not the youngest of the Olsen clan has intentionally pegged herself as the go-to girl for creepfests doesn’t really matter: if she’s in it and it’s “scary,” her gripping, reactive performance is, alone, well-worth the price of admission.