THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS REGARDING THE CONCLUSION OF SILENT HOUSE
Memories and dreams have a fascinating way of surfacing themselves through what’s known as a “trigger”. For instance, it’s been proven that a person who has a panic attack is susceptible to have another one if put in the exact same geographical location of where the first one occurred, regardless of the emotions currently expressed in that place. I, myself, have had some experience with this, and it’s very odd to be in a place where something unpleasant has happened to you. Even though you’re no longer in any danger, you almost get the feeling that the place itself is going to attack you.
Silent House takes this premise, and essentially capitalizes on the fear that comes with remembrance. Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), a beautiful girl in her early twenties, is moving out of her childhood home. With help from her father, John (Adam Trese), and her uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), they plan to be out of the house as soon as possible. John and Peter take some pictures of a hole in the wall chewed out by rats, and after arguing with each other, Peter storms out angry.
After a few minutes, an old friend, Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) comes by and catches up with Sarah who doesn’t even remember her. Her and Sophia make plans to hang out before she leaves, with Sarah agreeing. Before she creepily rides off, Sarah assures Sophia that she remembers her. Sophia simply says, “I know you do. How could you not?” and rides off. When she goes back in the house, she hears a loud bang, and her and her father go up to investigate. This, my good people, is where the madness begins.
If you’ve heard of Silent House, you’ve probably heard of the method they used to shoot it. One take. The whole movie is one take. Supposedly. Elizabeth Olsen herself has said that there are thirteen hidden edits in the film. I’m not sure if that means added visual effects in post, or what, but considering some of the lens changes in certain scenes, I doubt it was actually all filmed in one take. Still, Silent House succeeds due to its deliberate plotting, excellent tension, and incredible ending.
The whole film is, in fact, a metaphor for rape. This is where the spoilers come. The end of the film reveals that both Sarah’s father and uncle molested her as a child, taking pictures with a Polaroid camera. The reason I mentioned the use of the camera before was for this exact reason. During that scene, Sarah’s face is subtly uncomfortable. It’s not the most obvious thing in the world, but it’s there. In fact, every step, every shot, every turn, look, jump, and scream has a purpose.
I’ve been listening about how great Elizabeth Olsen is for almost an entire year, now, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen her in a movie. She completely exceeded my expectations and totally blew me away. If that girl doesn’t win an Oscar by the end of the 2010s, I might just lose my mind. Her portrayal of a mental breakdown through recollection is one of the best performances I’ve seen recently, and the amount of terror that is evident in her entire body makes up for the lack of any real scares in the actual film.
Silent House is more of a psychological thriller-mystery as opposed to just plain horror, which I actually appreciate. It’s more concerned with telling a story than actually scaring you. That’s not to say that it isn’t creepy, because it is. It really is, but screenwriter Laura Lau was much more fascinated with the psyche of a rape victim almost twenty years after the abuse. The character of Sarah could just as well have been the stereotypical dumb girl trapped in the house. Usually in these films, there’s an easy way out, but the protagonist is just too stupid to see it. This is not the case, because Sarah’s fear is not only genuine, but it’s also helpless enough for us to see that there really is no way out. She’s as stuck in the house as she’s going to get, raising the stakes as well as our heart rate.
But if there’s any other “character” in the film that brings almost as much emotion as Sarah, it’s cinematographer Igor Martinovic. The stunning and frankly breathtaking visuals of Silent House serve as a character on its own. The particular sequence that really got me was when Sarah escapes the house about halfway through the film, and she’s just sprinting for dear life from the place. I’ve never seen anything like that before and it really just blew me away.
There are many interpretations one can make from the film, but one of the more divided opinions is that of Sophia. Some say she was real, others claim she wasn’t. Personally, I think that Sophia serves as an alter-ego of sorts to Sarah who entered her mind when her father and uncle raped her, but I guess I can’t be sure. I’m almost tempted to go back and watch Silent House again to see if I can catch some of the little subtleties I may have missed.
The negative reviews are expected for an art-house flick with such a heavy subject, but in all honesty, I loved that Silent House worked strictly as metaphor. Nothing more, nothing less. Silent House is truly unlike any horror film I’ve seen recently, and for that, I’m very appreciative. The obviously misleading ads are going to get the asses in the seats, but getting them to stay there will be quite difficult, which is disappointing considering how much American audiences crave something new. As a loose remake of the 2010 Spanish-language film The Silent House, this remake changes the premise up a little bit, and adds an art-house twist that makes it all the more inviting. But this is one front door you don’t want to walk in to.