“Silent House” is a new scary movie about which there are many interesting features. It was shot (apparently) in “real time” with just one camera shot that runs something over eighty minutes. That’s interesting. It is not rated. That’s kind of interesting. It is about how the child is mother to the woman. And that can be interesting, I suppose.
But the story itself isn’t interesting enough. Suspense stories always torture their auditors by stretching out some revelation we know is coming. Sometimes that sort of anxious waiting is delicious. In the last act of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Gwendolyn says, “This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”
Well, not so much in “Silent House.” The pauses between early noises upstairs are long enough that one stops worrying that there may be another. The rate at which events occur does pick up late, but by then we are in the movie’s self-explanatory mode. And as we all know, once a movie begins to explain its story, it is no longer any fun to watch.
There are some things to explain here. Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, who must have the best press agent in Hollywood) is a misfit girl of college age who is helping her father and uncle clean out the family’s summer house. Some of the windows are boarded over, and it is getting to be dark, so most of the movie takes place in rooms lit by lanterns, and the cinematic lighting here really is laudable.
We can see the three of them go through what must be four floors (one a basement) of boxes and old furniture. Sarah goes to the door and finds a brunette, a vaguely remembered playmate from childhood, standing on the porch in a scene that seems to exist primarily to establish that there is no phone connection or cell signal out at the house. Brunette leaves. Dad leaves. Uncle leaves.
There are loud noises. Sarah is afraid. She is in the photographic frame all but three or four stretches of a few seconds as the movie runs. Behind her, we see a man’s silhouette, BUT SHE DOESN’T SEE IT. Here the film cheats by establishing that we know more than she does about the intruder or intruders. Later we find out that this CANNOT be true.
Sarah finds her father dreadfully wounded. She rushes off to unlock the front door and go off for help, but the key is not in its place. She hides, under furniture, from the dragging footsteps (and, in one delightfully wrong passage later on, from a man’s ankles and a pool cue). Finally, after several unbelievably close brushes with intruders, she escapes through a bulkhead door and runs out to the road, only to see an intruder girl in the bushes.
Just then her uncle picks Sarah up in his car and takes her back to the house so that he can get Dad to take him to the hospital. When an intruder starts to get into the car with her, Sarah scoots back into the house and goes around with her pistol-packing uncle looking for Pop. Like his brother before him, Uncle picks up scattered Polaroid photos and keeps them from Sarah.
About the time Sarah and Unk are parted, the brunette appears again, this time inside the locked house. And at this point she begins the explanation of what’s been happening. The movie isn’t really in what they call “real time.” It is full of flashbacks to Sarah’s childhood. The reason the movie couldn’t be screened by the ratings board becomes a little clearer as we delve into Sarah’s past. But by then some moviegoers are going to be angry with “Silent House” for having conned us about its point of view. How can we see figments of Sarah’s imagination that she doesn’t see?
This last part of “Silent House” is really weak. Gwendolyn wouldn’t have cared for it at all. She would have gotten out her diary which she always carried to have something sensational to read on the train.