So we're back in "recent remake" territory, which you'll no doubt remember from recent episodes like [REC] = Quarantine, and Let the Right One In = Let Me In. The original flick this time around is a low-key and allegedly "all in one take" horror tale from Uruguay called La Casa Muda. Translated into English, that's The Silent House, and voila: we have an American remake. I reviewed the first film, pretty favorably, last year at this very website.
Having offered up that basic historical information, let us now ignore the original film and focus on Chris Kentis' and Laura Lau's American remake. Every film should stand (or fall) on its own accord, even if it is just a virtual photocopy of a foreign-language film that's only two years old. I digressed a little there. If you take a "recent remake" project in the nicest way possible, it's actually a big compliment. A producer doesn't snatch up a horror flick's remake rights because s/he hates the movie, so perhaps the new version can be forgiven for adhering so closely to its predecessor. But, yes, on its own, as its own flick, Silent House is actually pretty creepy -- but that praise comes with a few warnings as well.
Presented in "real time," and seamlessly edited together in some very clever ways, Silent House is about nothing more than a young woman (the adorable Elizabeth Olsen) who finds herself trapped inside her childhood home. Suffice to say it's not an inviting place. Located somewhere amidst the locked doors, dead-end hallways, and foreboding stairwells are Sarah's father and uncle, but both men have a tendency to disappear at the most inopportune moments. Much of Silent House is poor little Sarah, wandering through unpleasant rooms, jumping at sounds, and shrieking at sudden shadows -- and what makes the movie slightly more novel than a basic haunted house movie is the way in which the camera follows Ms. Olsen around like an invisible insect, how the filmmakers are able to sustain the better moments of tension through use of canny camerawork and super-slick editing, and how the setting as a whole starts to feel like a truly devious place.
As proven last year in the excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene, Elizabeth Olsen is a young actress worth watching (and looking at). Here she's able to give us an entry point to the creepy stuff with no effort at all. She's likable, vulnerable, and interesting all at once, thereby proving that a strong performer can bring intangible assets to even the most familiar of movie concepts. Plus, well, she has the face of an angel, and this movie presents it very nicely. With a lesser actress in the focal role, very few of the creaky floorboards or slamming doors would amount to much, but by the time Sarah discovers what's actually going on in this not-so-silent house, you'll be invested enough to care a little bit.
Hardly any sort of horror flick barn-burner, Silent House is a simple and straightforward haunted house story that offers a bit that's new, a whole bunch that's not, a great lead performance, and a few surprises you may or may not see coming. (Fans of this sort of "slow burn" horror tale should absolutely check out Ti West's House of the Devil.) The co-directors (they also did the creepy Open Water a few years back) seem to be having a good time staging all of this eeriness, and that helps to buoy the flick through some slow patches. Overall, though, Olsen's work, the frankly fascinating visual gimmickry, and a few well-presented scary moments make Silent House something you could curl up with as a Wednesday night rental, although it's hardly a big-time "Friday night at the movies" sort of experience.