Silent House (film)
|Screenplay by||Laura Lau|
The Silent House screenplay|
by Oscar Estevez
|Music by||Nathan Larson|
Open Road Films|
|Box office||$13.1 million|
Silent House is a 2011 American independent horror film directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, and starring Elizabeth Olsen. The plot focuses on a young woman who is terrorized in her family vacation home while cleaning the property with her father and uncle. The film is a remake of the 2010 Uruguayan film, La casa muda (lit. English:The Silent House), which was allegedly based on an actual incident that occurred in a village in Uruguay in the 1940s. It is notable for its use of "real time" footage and the manufactured appearance of a single continuous shot, similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948).
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011 and was subsequently purchased by Open Road Films and Universal Pictures for distribution. Silent House premiered in United States theaters on March 9, 2012. It opened at number 5 at the U.S. box office, earning $6.6 million during its opening weekend; it would go on to gross a total of $12.8 million domestically.
A young woman named Sarah is staying at her family's dilapidated Victorian house in the countryside with her father and her uncle, helping them fix it up. Due to petty fighting between Sarah's uncle and her father, her uncle decides to take a break from working and drives into town to get tools. While her father works upstairs, there is a knock on the door and Sarah answers it, meeting a young woman named Sophia who claims to be one of Sarah's childhood friends, though Sarah does not remember her. The two plan to meet again later.
Soon after, Sarah hears strange noises upstairs and immediately notifies her father. He is not worried, but goes to check, finding nothing. Sarah calms down, but soon hears the sound of her father falling down the stairs. Panicked, she tries to leave the house but all exits are locked or boarded up, and she hides from an unknown perpetrator who attempts to grab hold of her under a table. Sarah searches for her father and finds him unconscious with a head wound. She runs to the basement in search of the cellar door leading outside, and finds a bed and other human necessities, evidence that someone else has been living there, possibly squatters. She sees a figure shining a light in the basement to find her but she escapes out the cellar door.
Outside, she meets her uncle, who has returned, and sees a young girl on the side of the road who disappears before her eyes. Her uncle insists on driving them back to the house to rescue her father, despite Sarah's plea that they should both go get help. They discover her father's body to be missing, and find a generator lamp running on the third floor of the house in the billiard room. While searching the billiard room, the generator kicks off; the only source of light available is a Polaroid camera's flash.
Through a series of intermittent camera flashes, Sarah sees the young girl and an unidentified man in the room. The power returns to reveal that her uncle is missing. She hides under the pool table while two men take pictures, presumably pedophilic in nature, of an unseen girl on the top of the table. Sarah then sees one of the men dragging her uncle's body toward the staircase. She unsuccessfully attempts to shoot one of the men with her uncle's gun.
Sarah returns to her room to hide, and begins to exhibit signs of paranoia and psychosis. She has hallucinations that depict traumatic childhood events, including a blood stain appearing on her bed, a young girl in the bathtub with beer bottles and bloody water, and a toilet spewing blood. These vivid hallucinations frighten Sarah, and she runs downstairs.
In the foyer, she runs into Sophia, and finds her now conscious father wrapped in plastic, sitting up in the living room. Sophia gives Sarah a key to a box containing pedophilic pictures of Sarah as a little girl, implying that her father sexually abused and photographed her. It is suggested that her recent interactions and hallucinations with the little girl and mystery attacker have been a kind of traumatic repressed memory. Events at the house have caused this memory to reappear, and Sarah is now exacting her revenge, although she has been confusing the difference between the events that are in her subconscious from her childhood and what she is actually doing now, which is highly likely to be a result of dissociative identity disorder, where she attacks and assaults her father and uncle in her "intruder" mode while she simultaneously wanders the house as a victim trying to escape.
The "intruder" is then shown dragging her unconscious uncle into the living room before the next scene reveals that it's actually Sarah herself. Sarah then realizes Sophia is only another figment of her imagination and Sophia vanishes. Her father convinces Sarah, who is still deeply traumatized and reliving her horrific childhood experiences with him, to untie him. Once untied, her father slaps her and whips her to the floor with his belt. Her uncle then regains consciousness and tries to stop her father, who mocks his brother's pleas. As his back is turned, Sarah bludgeons his head with a sledgehammer, killing him. Her uncle begs for mercy and tells her he should have stopped the rape and abuse that went on at the hands of her father. Sarah leaves him and walks outside silently.
- Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah
- Adam Trese as John
- Eric Sheffer Stevens as Peter
- Julia Taylor Ross as Sophia
- Adam Barnett as Stalking Man
- Haley Murphy as Little Girl
The script for the film was written by Laura Lau, and based on the Uruguayan film La casa muda (2010). According to Lau, she saw the original film twice and wrote the script for the remake based on the viewings rather than adapting it from paper. The script ultimately came out to around fifty-five to sixty pages, which left the filmmakers concerned as to whether or not the timing would translate during filming: "We wondered whether it would time out properly, because there are no cuts," said Lau. "There’s no way to fix anything in post, it has to pace perfectly when you shoot it. So I think that was a huge challenge in terms of writing the script." Upon acquiring the house used for filming, Lau re-wrote the script in order for it to be compatible with the restrictions and characteristics of the house.
In terms of the film's unique presentation (being presented as a single take following one character), Lau said: "This entire movie is this woman's experience; it is her reality [...] it is one character's point of view, it's exactly what she's experiencing." She also stated that several aspects of the film were purposefully left open for interpretation. While writing the script for the film, Lau did extensive research on childhood sexual abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder stemming from psychological trauma.
Although the film's marketing campaign (as well as the promotion for the original film La casa muda) states that it is inspired by actual events, the specific events are not entirely known. According to Lau, she and Kentis were told, when approached to make the film, that it was based on an occurrence in Uruguay, though the details were left ambiguous:
When we were approached to do the remake, the first thing that we were told, aside from the fact that it was a single take, was that it was based on a true story, and that the true story had to do with something that happened in a village in Uruguay like, 60 years ago, where there were dead bodies and incest was involved.
In terms of casting, Kentis and Lau sought an actress with theatrical training due to the demanding nature of the filming process; Elizabeth Olsen was cast as the lead after impressing Kentis and Lau with her audition.
The movie was shot with Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras between October and November 2010 on location at a house in New Rochelle, New York. The house used in the film was found by directors Kentis and Lau entirely empty, and was wallpapered and filled with props and furniture by the production design.
Due to the unique nature of the film's presentation as a single take, the production crew ran into several technical issues while filming, mainly surrounding lighting issues and mobility around the house. Since filming was carried out in 12-15 minute takes, there were several occurrences where entire sequences had to be thrown out and re-done repeatedly due to lighting problems or missed cues.
Although the promotional material for the film suggests that it was filmed in real time in a single long take, Elizabeth Olsen revealed that the movie was actually filmed in 12-minute takes and edited so as to appear as one, which was later confirmed by Kentis and Lau.
Directors Kentis and Lau stated that they were inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948) and Russian Ark (2002), both purported single take films, as well as the home invasion thriller The Strangers (2008). Due to the unconventional filming process and storytelling mode, Kentis felt he was making an "experimental film." He also stated that the presentation and storytelling mode of the film as a single take was the main focus of the production, and that the fact that there were cuts in the film was irrelevant.
The world premiere of the film was at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, as part of the "Park City at Midnight" program; Kentis, Lau, and Olsen also appeared. It was released theatrically in the United States on March 9, 2012.
The film opened at number 5 at the United States box office, earning $6,661,234 during its opening weekend, showing on 2,124 screens. It would go on to show in theaters until late April 2012, grossing a total of $12,754,783 domestically. In foreign markets, it grossed a total of USD$346,889.
Internet review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shows the film has a score of 41% based on reviews from 125 critics, with the site's consensus: "Silent House is more technically proficient and ambitious than most fright-fests, but it also suffers from a disappointing payoff." The film received a harsh reception from audiences, earning an "F" grade from CinemaScore surveys (only the second movie of the year to receive the failing grade along with The Devil Inside.)
Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times praised Olsen's performance and the cinematography. Some publications, such as The Daily Telegraph, applauded Olsen's performance, calling it "brilliantly nervy and detailed", while Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said Olsen "isn't as interesting as she was in Martha Marcy May Marlene", and said the film, despite being atmospheric, "feels like a copy". Nonetheless, he awarded the film a 3/5 star rating. The Star Tribune described the film as "a psychotic episode come to life", and that it "follows the form of a Gothic novel", applauding it as being "impressive and oppressive". Others praised the technical production of the film, such as The Atlantic, who noted "the camera's unblinking eye constantly stays with Olsen, and we feel in as much danger as she is." Jonathan Crocker of Total Film described the camera as "gliding with impressive agility, the queasy HD lensing closes in tight and tracks Olsen’s petrified face, room to room", and, although critical of the film's ending, called the film "brutally effective" and "a fun campfire horror tale".
Other critics found the film's technicality unappealing, with Rob Gonsalves of eFilmcritic saying "the underlit setting occasionally produces unsettling, suggestive imagery, but the technique took me out of the movie," while The Observer accused the film of "wasting the talent of Elizabeth Olsen." The staff of The A.V. Club named it one of the worst movies of 2012, noting its "mediocrity takes a downward turn in a final act that hinges on an icky, exploitative twist." Roger Ebert awarded the film two out of four stars, writing: "My attention was held for the first act or so. Then any attempt at realism was abandoned, and it became clear that the house, and the movie containing it, were devices to manufacture methodical thrills. The explanation, if that's what it was, seemed devised and unconvincing."
David Edelstein of Vulture praised the film, defending it against the perceived critical backlash, writing: "It’s odd that the CinemaScore rating for Silent House, a more than decent gimmicky scare picture that opened last Friday, is an “F” — suggesting that critics like me are more excited by formal inventiveness than most of the film-going public." In a 2017 retrospective by Film School Rejects, Silent House was named one of the most "underrated" horror films of the twenty-first century. Psychologist Sharon Packer notes the film as an example of dissociative identity disorder in contemporary horror films, alongside other genre films such as High Tension (2005) and The Uninvited (2009).
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