Review: Silent House (2012)

★★½☆☆

Don’t let the fact that the star of Silent House, the new haunted house / mad person on the loose / woman in peril horror film from husband and wife directorial team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, is a member of the ubiquitous Olsen clan.  You can relax as it’s not one of the twins but their younger (and more accomplished) sister Elizabeth (though accomplished is, admittedly, a relative term in this context). Silent House is a film which has all the components for a taut little chiller which it utilises to good effect (mostly) until the finale, when it squanders all its hard work in a less than satisfying, and unnecessarily unsavoury, denouement.

Sarah (Olsen), her father John (Adam Trese) and uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), are spending the summer fixing up the family’s old lakeside retreat, before putting the property on the market.  After a disagreement with his brother Peter drives into the local town in order to get some space, leaving Sarah and John alone in the house. During the ensuing afternoon John is attacked by an unseen assailant, after he leaves Sarah to finish packing her upstairs bedroom.  Realising that they are obviously not alone in the house, and with her father seriously injured, Sarah makes a desperate bid to escape and get help.  However with all the doors of the house mysteriously locked Sarah finds herself in an increasingly frantic fight for life against someone intent on silencing her forever.

There’s not much you can say about Silent House because, in actual fact, there’s much to say.  The premise is simple – a young woman stuck in an ‘apparently’ deserted house with no help close to hand, suddenly finds herself at the mercy of an unknown attacker.  And that’s all there is to it.  That the story is pretty minimal makes it all the more surprising that it actually manages, for the most part, to hold your attention for eighty five minutes.

This, it must be admitted, is due in no small way to Elizabeth Olsen, who turns in a not unbelievable performance as the increasingly hysterical Sarah who is pursued around the empty house and its warren like basement (which incidentally she knows very little about for a house which is meant to have been in her family for years).  You feel by the end that she has more to give as an actress if she were to be offered a role to get her teeth into – but at 23 she’s young, so there’s still hope for her yet.  What you see of Tresse and Stevens as the other two main characters is perfectly passable.  But, as they’re really only there to set up another opportunity for Olsen to find herself in peril (the scene where Steven’s character Peter leaves Sarah in a car outside the house whilst he goes in to investigate what’s going on is genuinely unsettling), their required level of acting ability is pretty basic.

The other star of course is the house, which again you feel could have been made more of.  The inside, where the main action takes place, is not much more than a collection of dusty, box filled rooms joined by dimly lit corridors, which are ideal for secluding any suggested threats to Sarah as she is chased around the house, but does little to imbue it with any personality.  The outside of the building is deceptively promising, with a suitably sinister, old world plantation appearance set amidst an overgrown, lakeside estate.  However this belies the fact that inside there’s very little going on, which is actually a pretty accurate summation of a film which ultimately fails to deliver the scares on which it clearly sets out to sell itself.

Cleaver Patterson

UK Release Date: 4th May 2012
Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
Director: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Rating: 15