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‘Silent House’ Review: Hoary Horror Movie Has Dread but No Scares

Based on a 2010 Uruguayan film, Elizabeth Olsen-starrer does creepy with artistic pretentions


Anyone who has ever spent time in an old house knows that they creak. All sorts of things can, and do, go bump in the night.

Horror films like “Silent House” exploit the thin line — at least for suggestible and susceptible viewers — between creaky and creepy.

“Silent House,” which is based on “La Casa Muda,” a 2010 Uruguayan film, does creepy with artistic pretentions. Written by Laura Lau and directed by Lau and Chris Kentis (the married couple’s previous film was “Open Water”), this low-budget indie is filmed in a series of extended takes. Additionally, the camera work is often intentionally shaky and numerous scenes are shot in the near dark.

None of which can disguise for long that “Silent House” is serving up that hoariest of horror-movie plot standbys: A nubile young woman, threatened and in danger, grows ever more frightened even as she tries to escape her shadowy pursuer(s).

The woman in peril here is Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), who is helping her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) clean out the family’s ramshackle, waterside summerhouse before putting it on the market. In keeping with the genre, the windows on the place are boarded up, the electricity isn’t working, and there’s no cell phone reception.

When Sarah starts hearing noises in the house and bad stuff begins to happen, things quickly go from bad to worse. Cue the panting, tears and screaming though, to the filmmakers’ and Olsen’s credit, Sarah isn’t as flat-out dumb as some horror movie heroines, i.e. she never feels strip down to her scanties or take a shower in the middle of trying to escape her stalker.

“Silent House” is more effective at creating a sense of dread than actually scaring viewers and — semi-spoiler ahead — the supposed twist at the end seems tacked on and disappointingly hackneyed.

Olsen, so impressive in her debut in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” manages to hold a viewer’s attention throughout here, and that’s saying something. She mostly has to look extremely scared, run or cower, breath heavily and sob, all of which she does convincingly.

Also in its favor, “Silent House” clocks in at just less than 90 minutes. When there isn’t really much going on, no reason to stretch it out.