Day 8: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October

Silent House
Directed by Laura Lau and Chris Kentis (They bill themselves the opposite way and I imagine they have a good reason for that (alphabetical?) but I’m putting her first for my purposes.) Lau is also the writer and one of the producers of the film.
It was based on a “La casa muda (The Silent House)” directed by Gustavo Hernandez in Uruguay. But he’s a guy, so I’m not reviewing his version, too, at least not this month. This blog here is super serious work and rules must be followed.
1 hour, 27 minutes
I watched it on iTunes.

Directed by the filmmaking team behind the haunting and notably committed shark flick “Open Water,” Laura Lau and Chris Kentis, “Silent House” stars Elizabeth Olsen (she of the great big eyes and voice of constantly restrained rage), with supporting turns by Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens (who, shout out, added his wife’s last name to his last name, so he went from Stevens to Sheffer Stevens, much like I went from Locke to Locke Nelson. So you gotta love that guy.). Olsen plays Sarah, a young woman who’s staying in her family’s vacation lake house with her father and uncle as the trio fix it up to sell it. The house is a horror filmmaker’s dream of a mess – plastic sheeting, boarded up windows and oh so many locks on everything. You see, they’ve had a lot of break-ins and squatters, who’ve caused oh so much damage to the place that they need all these extra locks to keep them out. But of course, in great service to the coming terror, those locks can also keep people in. Sarah is a ’fraidy cat, constantly jumping at every noise and asking the men in her life to investigate for her. But luckily, that approach pays off tenfold. Sarah’s much stronger than she at first appears. She soon finds herself alone and hiding from something, or someone, in the great big house. But is this a squatter with an axe to grind or something much darker?

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My first impression was oh no, this is one of those one long, continuous take flicks. I usually hate them and check to see if the director is a guy because it seems to be an odd fixation of male directors to get something in one, long take. It’s like they all saw “Goodfellas” and want to be that when they grow up, you know, as opposed to doing coverage-style, way less of a headache and way less gimmicky storytelling. I know this is an unfair and likely sexist thought but it comes from many, many personal anecdotes of talking to male directors who think this will be the way to make their film stand out. And who knows, maybe the trick of doing that one shot has become so used that it’s like the snake eating its own tail at this point and it’s not even original anymore so who cares and it’s just my own personal bias. Like voiceovers. I love voiceovers but I know many find them a cheat. But this was co-directed by a lady so I was pleasantly surprised. When I looked it up, it appears that the original film it’s based on, “La casa muda,” took the one take route, too anyway. That continuous shot takes a good twenty-two minutes to start to earn its presence. I wish they’d just used coverage for the first third of the flick and then gone to the one take when things started to get heavy. It may have had more impact that way.

Okay, so my weirdo hatred of one takes aside, this movie is so primal and emotional. Olsen is so frazzled and flawed and desperate. It’s almost as though the walls of the house were seeping with all of her feelings. The big reveal at the end was both earned and surprising. The female voice is potent here. There’s so much about the looming possibility of male menace, increased female agency, and the classic themes of rage and vengeance after abuse. I’m getting to be more and more of an Elizabeth Olsen fan. She continues to be a dazzler. But despite admiring all of the scares, Olsen’s commitment, and how well they make their camera trick work, so much of this was just too one-note, a great basic idea with just not enough meat on its bones. I was outright bored in places and not the all is quiet before the storm moments at the beginning. I can see how this wasn’t a huge hit, but it was still a reliably raw, spooky flick.

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