Elizabeth Olsen's star looked set for a meteoric rise on the basis of her performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, so it's hugely reassuring to discover it wasn't a one-off. Her terrific and terrifying turn in Silent House is equally astounding and ensures that this horror flick is a - *CLICHÉ ALERT* - nail-biting, edge of the seat experience.
A remake of Uruguayan film La Casa Muda, the simple premise revolves around a young woman called Sarah (Olsen) being terrorised in her family's lakeside holiday home after travelling there to renovate it alongside her father and uncle. She is soon menaced by an unseen presence and unable to escape due to the boarded windows and doors that have been locked shut.
Decked out in a tight white vest that would make John McClane blush, Sarah must force her way out for a chance of survival. Lots of adrenalin-fuelled running and hiding ensues, as the suspense continues to mount until a somewhat questionable denouement.
Silent House is being spoken about as a 'one shot' movie, with only a few 'invisible' cuts, and set in real time. This does sound rather gimmicky, but a combination of Olsen selling the scares and terrific handheld camerawork results in the viewer feeling like an active participant in the claustrophobic environment.
One moment epitomises the immersive effect successfully generated. It appears when Sarah finally manages to break off some of the wood boarding up a window, allowing a beam of natural light to pierce the murky interior. The feeling of relief is almost euphoric, for as spectators we are positioned in a darkened room too.
Okay, admittedly she is facing a possible brutal murderer on the loose while the worst we have to encounter are the sloths who munch loudly on popcorn and rummage or chatter loudly throughout the movie. But still...
Olsen's brilliance is demonstrated in a brutally raw sequence in which she is hiding in the dark inches away from the perpetrator, her face writhing in agony as she emits a silent 'scream'. Her portrayal should also be noted for its technical merits, as the long and highly choreographed takes require intricate movement to hit the right marks at the specific time amidst the chaotic camerawork and encircling threats that abound from around her.
The presence of a non-diegetic soundtrack is an undoubted annoyance. The strengths of this film revolve around immersing us in the authentic and raw emotions of Sarah in such a perilous predicament, with the camera tightly framing her creeped countenance.
So why shatter this illusion by using such blatant aural artifice to tell us when we should be scared? It does the magnificent Olsen a disservice. She deserves to be witnessed in the acting equivalent of acapella.
Relentlessly bleak and effective, Silent House will not be to everyone's liking. After all, many view cinema - and the horror genre - as a means of escapism. Yet the uncomfortable feeling of entrapment is the prevalent force here. Whether that fear is an unpleasant or exciting experience depends on the individual involved.