Mood, Mayhem and Mold: “Silent House” Review

I know I’ve said it before but I will say it again…me and supernatural horror movies don’t really get along. I find them to be tediously plodding and incredibly boring. For every classic supernatural thriller like Poltergeist we must sit through five Paranormal Activity 3’s. I just don’t find the subgenre very interesting. I know that others can make the same case against slashers. I mean, let’s be honest here, most slashers really are a guy in a mask chopping up attractive teens. Nonetheless, at least in the slasher subgenre we can at least look forward to some creative deaths. In supernatural horror it normally is just a bunch of doors slamming and we are lucky if ANYONE dies. So, why this diatribe against supernatural films? Well, I figured I should give you a little bit of background on my relationship with supernatural films before digging into the supernatural horror film of the night, The Silent House. Let’s just say that I had low expectations going into this film as it has been years since I’ve seen a good film from this subgenre. Did The Silent House live up to my low expectations? Let us start at the beginning…

The Silent House begins with a young woman named Sarah (in a brilliant, tour-de-force performance by the unstoppable Elizabeth Olsen) is staying at a lakeside house in the country with her father, John (Adam Trese), and Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), fixing it up in preparation for sale. Due to fighting between the men, her uncle takes a break, driving to town in his car, leaving Sarah and her father alone in the house. A knock is heard at the door and, since her father is upstairs working, Sarah answers. The visitor is a friendly young woman about Sarah’s age, named Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross), who claims to be one of Sarah’s childhood friends. Sarah doesn’t remember her and Sophia suggests they meet again later. Sarah agrees and the girl leaves.

Soon after, Sarah hears strange noises upstairs and notifies her father. He goes upstairs to see if anything is wrong, but finds nothing. Sarah, calmed by her father, goes to her room to pack. Not long afterward, she hears him walking down the stairs, falling, then nothing. She frantically searches for him and finds him unconscious with a bloody wound on his head. He appears to have been deliberately knocked out. Sarah tries to escape from the house, but all doors are locked or boarded up. She goes back to her father’s unconscious body to get the only key to the front door, but he is gone. She runs to the basement and finds a bed and other human necessities indicating someone had been living downstairs. Panicking, she sees a figure shining a light in the basement, looking for her. Will Sarah survive the night?

Is the house haunted? Are these spirits being imagined by Sarah? Is someone out to get here? To answer these questions would spoil the fun of the movie. And yes dear reader, much to my surprise, this movie is indeed a hell of a lot of fun. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I thought the cuts in the movie were seamless and it really did feel as though the movie was being shot in real time. The movie had a sense of fear and dread that have been missing from the Paranormal movies with some great imagery. Elizabeth Olsen was amazing in this film and after Martha Marcy May Marlene, she has risen to the top of my young actors to watch list. That’s not to say that everything in the movie works. With the expectation of Olsen, the other actors all come off a little hammy, overacting to a sometimes hilarious degree. The geography of the house is never very clear and it is sometimes very hard to figure out just what room each of the characters are in and even what floor they are on. There will be some viewers who will take offense to the ending or, rather, lack thereof. None of these flaws make me like the movie any less. This is an imperfect film but also one that takes a lot of chances and actually requires intelligence from its audience. It’s nice to see what I’ve been missing.