If there's one thing the artistic team behind Silent House is aware of, it's that Polaroid cameras, isolation, and reappearing little girls are super creepy. What they seem to have forgotten is that when it comes to low budget horror films, elusiveness is far eerier than attempting to pull a rabbit out of hat by the film's conclusion. You would expect Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, the team behind the haunting scuba-nightmare Open Water, to be aware of that. The film is billed as one that was filmed to look like a single camera take, and while that proves effective for much of the film, the technique is eventually abandoned, making it uneven.
The general plot of Silent House revolves around Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), who is helping her father and uncle clear out her childhood home. The creaky old house has fallen prey to squatters and is boarded up and lit only by an unreliable generator in the attic. There's also no cell service, internet, or neighbors. We're in!
Things begin turning rather unfortunate for Sarah after she is visited by a mysterious young woman, who claims to have played with her as a child. Though Sarah has no memory of her, she welcomes the company. From there, it's essentially 45 minutes of Sarah investigating a noise. Yet there are plenty of strange occurrences, shadowy figures, and unanswered questions to keep the audience engaged. This is served by a brutal home invasion that delivers plenty of jumps. Olsen is quite compelling in the role but her over-the-top panting takes away from the strengths of her performance.
Those who saw Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene last year will feel that they were spoiled. The unsettling drama is a far better haunted house movie, in which a young woman has trouble distinguishing between her sister's lake house and the rural cabin in which she lived as a cult member. Others who may be disappointed are those who saw the original Uruguayan version of the story, La Casa Muda, which has a more effective narrative structure.
In the end, Silent House proves to be an intriguing metaphor. Though viewers may find its last 15 minutes puzzling, the revelation that emerges will likely resonate. The claustrophobic fright-fest definitely delivers on scares, but it ends up trying too hard to please.