MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Sundance Review: Silent House

I admit to being a bit paranoid about big spooky houses and things that go bump in the night. I can’t imagine that I would ever choose to live in a big, rambling old house so isolated from civilization that my cell phone wouldn’t work in an emergency. That’s just asking for trouble.

And if I did happen to find myself, as Sarah, the protagonist of Silent House does, dragged out to such a remote location by my dad and uncle to do some long overdue clean-up and remodeling of the dusty, long-neglected vacation estate where I spent much of my childhood, and the house had no electricity because rats had chewed through the wiring so we had to move about using only lanterns, and if I started hearing spooky noises like people walking around upstairs when no one else is supposed to be there? I think it’s unlikely I would go roaming through three stories of spooky, dark, moldy house investigating said noises. I would get the hell out of there in a New York minute.

What I would do in such a situation, however, would make for an inherently boring horror movie that would be highly unlikely to be accepted at Sundance. Fortunately, directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (who directed the terrific Open Water, the film responsible for my now permanent aversion to ever going deep-sea scuba diving) know there’s a difference between what your average savvy person would do in such a situation and what makes for a tense, spooky thriller.

Silent House is based on the film La Casa Muda (The Silent House) by Uruguayan director Gustavo Hernandez, which played at Cannes last year. La Casa Muda was notable for being a 79-minute one-shot horror movie, and Kentis and Lau reportedly accomplished the same thing with their take on the story (there was some spirited discussion on the drive home after the screening as to whether the film is, in fact, one continuous shot, but I tend to think it is, at least technically speaking).

The entire film is told from the perspective of Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the Olsen twins, and she is excellent here), who, as aforesaid, is at this house with her dad and uncle. Right from the start, there’s an uneasy vibe: Dad is overbearing and controlling, Uncle Pete has a decidedly creepy vibe. Things start getting curiouser and curiouser, and then scarier and scarier as Kentis and Lau up the ante on the tension, torquing it up to what was for me, at least, almost unbearable at times (by which I mean: I was hiding my eyes through much of it, scrunched down in my seat, and I may have squealed like a girl once or twice, much to the amusement of a couple of my male viewing partners). I’m not going to give away any more of the plot than that, you need to see this one for yourself — it’s wait-listed only at this point, though, so best of luck getting a ticket.

One interesting note: This film for me really speaks to the shift in programming here at Sundance over the past couple years. Silent House is the kind of film that, a few years ago, I would have much more expected to see pop out of Slamdance ala Paranormal Activity, and, in fact, I expect it might get picked up during the fest. It could very well be this year’s Paranormal Activity, actually (and everyone wants one of those, right?)

It’s just the kind of film that lends itself perfectly to the kind of viral marketing that made Paranormal Activity such a surprise success, and I expect it will, for the most part, be a huge Midnight crowd-pleaser and quite likely a buzz film at this year’s Sundance. Some might take issue with the twist it takes at the end, but it worked very well for me. If you’re in Park City, try to score yourself a ticket to see this one.

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“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima

“They’re still talking about the ‘cathedral of cinema,’ the ‘communal experience,’ blah blah. The experiences I’ve had recently in the theatre have not been good. There’s commercials, noise, cellphones. I was watching Colette at the Varsity, and halfway through red flashes came up at the bottom of the frame. A woman came out and said, ‘We’re going to have to reboot, so take fifteen minutes and come back.’ Then they rebooted it from the beginning, and she had to ask the audience to tell her how far to go. You tell me, is that a great experience? I generally don’t watch movies in a cinema at all. Netflix is the future. It’s the present. But the whole paradigm of a series, binge-watching, it’s quite different. My first reaction is that it’s more novelistic, because if you have an eight-hour season, you can get into complex, intricate things. You can let it breathe and the audience expectations are such that they will let you, where before they wouldn’t have the patience. I think only the surface has been touched with experimenting with that.”
~ David Cronenberg