Silent House

2011 / 85m - USA
Silent House poster

As film fans we all love to hate remakes, especially when they appear too close to the original film. So chances are that people are going to dismiss Silent House as anything worthwhile simply because it didn't take "the Americans" more than a year to churn out this remake of La Casa Muda, taking away the spotlight from this little Uruguayan horror film. Once in a while though the result isn't actually half bad and Silent House is such a notable exception.

screen capture of Silent House

It may have helped that I didn't see the original prior to this remake, but getting your hands on Uruguayan films just isn't all that easy around here. Many of the striking elements of Silent House appear to be lifted straight from the original, though films like Quarantine are the ultimate proof that this is still no guarantee for success. Judged on its own merits though, Silent House is a superbly tense and thrilling little horror film, a film that gives some new shine to the less is more principle and clings to the dark basics of the horror film.

One of the film's defining characteristics (and the main point of promotion of the original) is the fact that it's a one-take film (or at least, it's edited like a one-take affair). From the very first shot until the final image, the camera is fixated on Sarah, a young girl helping her dad out fixing up an old summer house, getting it ready to be sold. Even though she is a little introverted, Sarah seems like a nice enough girl who treasures the time she spends with her dad.

Originality isn't one of the film's main selling points, so if the different plot elements sound familiar it's probably because you've seen and experienced them countless times before. From the awkward meeting with a former play mate to the sudden disappearance of certain characters and the obligatory twist ending, Silent House makes it clear that it values atmosphere higher than a good, original plot. This being a straight-forward horror film, I actually feel like that wasn't such a bad choice.

screen capture of Silent House

Apart from the fact that scenes are edited seamlessly together, there are some other bold visual choices. First of all you'll notice that the darkness is ever present in this film. Some shots are clearly too dark to make out anything substantial, but because the rhythm and timing of the camera work is spot on this only adds to the creepy atmosphere. Another interesting choice is to have the camera focus on Sarah at all times. Many of tense scenes are experienced through the facial expressions of Sarah, rather than the actual events happening in front of Sarah. The camera often doesn't register the actual scares, rather it shows the effect these events have on Sarah. It helps to keep the audience even more in the dark.

As you can probably guess, the soundtrack is pretty minimalistic. Most of the time there isn't even any noticeable music in the background, just ambient noises. The scarce moments that do feature sonic build-ups are excellent though, adding a lot of tension to these climaxes. I'm pretty sure that tweaking the ambient noises a bit more wouldn't have hurt the film, which could've added even more tension to the overall atmosphere. Beyond that there really isn't any reason to complain about the Silent House soundtrack.

With the camera constantly aimed at Sarah, I'm glad Kentis and Lau found a talented actress to convey Sarah's experiences and emotions. Most of the time I care very little for the acting talent of horror film casts, but as we often only have Sarah's body language to rely on this film really needed an actress beyond the dumb bimbos that usually litter horror films. Elisabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) does an excellent job and even though it feels like her character lies very close to the one she played in MMMM, she is an essential part in this film's success. The rest of the cast (5 others) are barely seen or heard.

screen capture of Silent House

Silent House is a very minimalistic film. There is little else happening beyond Sarah running through an old, dark and empty house, apart from the short (yet somewhat predictable) twist ending of course. It's a film that will leave you completely cold if you don't enjoy this basic setup or if you don't feel the tension that comes from the unknown. But if it does strike a chord it's one of the most creepy and atmospheric horror films released in 2012.

I'm not sure just how much it differs from the original and as is the case with all remakes, I assume it's best to leave some time between watching this and La Casa Muda. But if you can set aside your preconceptions about remakes you might just find a very enjoyable horror film. Adequately shot, novel in its execution and tense in just the right places, Silent House is a neat little gem that deserves an unbiased audience.