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Silent House

The American film Silence House (2011) directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau is based on the original Spanish film Silent House (2010) directed by Gustavo Hernandez. I gather that the ending of the Spanish version is quite different to the American version so it is probably more accurate to say that the American film is based on the concept of the Spanish film rather than being a direct re-make. The basic premise is that a father and daughter are staying for a few days in a house they are renovating to sell, they are then terrorised by someone making noises and running about. The film was a hit because it was all shot in one take, cranking up the tension in real time hence the re-make. I had heard of the Spanish version and had originally intended to watch it before watching the American one, but did not quite get around to it. I will watch it at some point to compare the two.

So to the American Silent House which I will now only refer to as Silence House. Sarah and her father are staying for a couple of days at her childhood home in order to renovate it. They have not lived in the house for some time, it is now only occasionally used as a holiday house by the family and has fallen into disrepair. There is no mains electricity, and due to all the windows being boarded up, the main light source is from handheld lanterns. The house is in an isolated location, there are several floors, filled with maze like corridors and a basement. There is a knock at the door and Sarah is confronted by a childhood friend Sophia. Sophia is happy to see Sarah after such a long time but awkwardly Sarah has no recollection of her. As they briefly chat the information that youths and squatters have been seen breaking into the house comes up, thus planting the possibility in our heads that they might return. Sarah’s uncle has been helping with the renovations, when he goes home for the night Sarah and her father are left alone. Sarah hears strange noises coming from upstairs. She and her dad go and check them out but find nothing. Sarah must pack up all of the old childhood toys in her room, but as she is doing so she hears what sounds like her father getting attacked in the next room. Sarah must try and help her father without being caught by whomever is tormenting her family.

The atmosphere of Silent House is introduced in the films opening. We see Sarah on the rocks by the sea, we walk with her from the sea up to her house. At various points in the action the scene drops in and out of focus, and pull focus between different elements within the shot. The camera focuses on her, then the tall grass as she runs her fingers through the grass, we run our fingers through the grass with her. Silent House is beautifully subjective, we see what she sees. As Sarah creeps through the dark corridors lamp first we always see her within the frame but we also see what she sees at every moment, with no cutaways to break the atmosphere the tension is palpable. The maze like house, the continuous action and the subjective camera weave an intricate web, and we find ourselves trapped in the worst kind of dream. Where no matter which way you turn, no matter what door you go through or how hard you try you end up back where you started, alone, trapped in the mirror of your minds eye.

Silent House is a really good film. It is visually interesting, and (in-spite of the fact that it is a re-make) it is original, and genuinely scary. It reminds me of a game the kids on my street used to play called ‘murder in the dark,’ it was basically like tag but in pitch black darkness, the idea was to be as quiet as possible in order to not be discovered but in reality it would end up in everybody screaming, running around and bumping into things. Appropriately (or appropriately inappropriately) Silent House is as exciting as a child’s game and as terrifying as in inner workings of your mind. Well at least until the ending. I was scared up until the point where I new for certain that the prediction I had made during the films opening as to what the ending would be or ‘who dun it’ was correct. SPOILER ALERT I knew from when Sarah tells her old friend that she “does remember her” and Sophia says something along the lines of “well how could you forget” that I knew.

Sarah is played by third Olson sister Elizabeth soon to be know as the better Olson sister. She is really great here, giving a refreshingly genuine performance. Silent House is very European in it’s sensibilities, it reminded me a lot of the French film Them (David Moreau, 2006) My viewing buddy Murray said it reminded him of Switch-blade Romance (2003) the film that unleashed Alexandre Aja on an unsuspecting public. Both great films by the way. The only American film I would compare Silent House would be Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder, 2011), Silent House is more subtle of course. All in all I highly recommend giving Silent House a watch. I fully intend to see it again one day if only to try and work out how the heck they shot it!

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