Thursday, August 30, 2012

Silent House (2011)

By now you probably know this is a remake of the Uruguayan film La Casa Muda.  Without hesitation I can affirm that the original is by far one of the best horror movies I've seen.  Minimalistic, technically impressive, subtle, confusing in the manner of a Lovecraft tale, and just plain creepy.  By the time the credits rolled, which are in themselves a sort of epilogue, I was thoroughly bothered in that way all horror fiends crave.  So when I heard there was an English-language remake, I was thrilled; and due to my awareness of its subtle nature, I made the appropriate decision to wait for the BluRay instead of going to a crowded cinema.

Unfortunately, by the time the credits rolled on Silent House, I wasn't nearly as impressed.  In fact, I was quite disappointment with almost all of this version's departures from the original.  At the same time, however, I don't know that it needed to be a repeat of what Michael Haneke did with Funny Games--a shot-for-shot remake of the original--because I like to experience reimaginings.  Silent House, for me, was three different films in one: the first third being extremely satisfying; the second third being an eyeroller; and the final third being a complete let-down.  But let's focus on the positive first.

The film sticks with the original's one-take setup, which still impressed me the second time around, especially since the action takes off nearly right away.  This is no easy feat with a film that has such a simple plot, setting, and cast.  Unless you went to film school, are an amateur filmmaker, or just a cinematography nut, you don't tend to realize all the little things that stitch a move together into a cohesive story.  Things such as scene/shot transitions, point-of-view, segue stock footage (trees, streams, highways, planes landing, etc.) are heavily used and easily overlooked, but they all go together to give a sense of elapsed time within the actual runtime of the film.  So, yes, when it comes to a one-continuous-take movie that is 90 minutes long, and that stays in the POV of a single character, it's no easy feat indeed.

Elizabeth Olsen, whom I've never seen before, nailed her role.  I mean, nailed it!  I would watch any horror movie with this actress.  And, as I've mentioned, this is a demanding role being that the whole film rests on her shoulders à la Ryan Reynolds in Buried (which is a good thing because the father and uncle characters are terrible).  I can't say I've ever seen a horror actress exhibit a sense of fear and dread quite this intense before.  There were many times I realized I was mimicking her actions: holding my breath being my most frequent response.  And that's a definite token to how great her performance was.  She was able to bring me into the film, into the silent house, if you will.

And now the negative stuff, which will inevitably include "spoilers" (deliberate quotes).  This version chooses to go with a visual entity (entity is my word for antagonist/monster/killer/stalker/etc.; not necessarily a metaphysical entity); and not only this but the entity is shown on-screen right away.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine, even with creature features.  We, the audience, stop fearing that which we've seen.  It would have been better if the film had chosen to ride it out a bit longer, instead of choosing to do this lame attempt at recreating the magic of the first in-house reveal in The Strangers.  Because, man, until this point in Silent House, I was so literally creeped out, wondering what was going on that my wife nearly scared me to death when she decided to come downstairs and ask me to turn the subwoofer down.

The other negatives revolve around the scares and the wrap-up.  A lot of scares employ the something's-there-then-a-character-blocks-the-frame-for-a-moment-then-it's-gone method, or vice-versa.  This is uncalled for in a movie of this type--of any type really.  It's insulting to the audience.  Although I can say that there were a few times the scares were setup to be predictable and then drew out past the moment of predictability, effectively raising the audience's pulse.  One of the best scares in the movie occurs at the beginning, when Olson is under a table and a glass bottle rolls across the floor.  (What occurs next is the actual good scare I'm referring to.)  If the film had maintained this type of form, I'd have been sold.

Then there's the wrap-up.  Oh! after all that disappointing middle layer, we're given no icing and no cherry on top.  Instead we're given this bizarre genre mix that is out-of-place and too far of a stretch to wow or emphiphanize (I think I made that word up) the audience.  The film is going, going, going, then it just turns and rapidly spits out what seems to be several different attempts at an ending.  Then, finally, one official turn and The End.  Then credits--but not cool credits like the original.  And I'm sitting there lamenting over what could have been a great film.  So, my final assessment is tough because it's really 3 dips into different genres: it begins as subtle psychological thriller, then haunted house, then home invasion, then killer, then survival, then mystery, then supernatural, then back to psychological.  And if you're into that, so much the better.  For me, I'd be delighted to re-watch only the first 20 minutes of this one.

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