[Screen It]


(2012) (Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese) (R)

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Horror: A young woman experiences increasingly creepy and ominous events when she ends up trapped in her family's shuttered lake house.
Sarah (ELIZABETH OLSEN) is a young woman who's helping her dad, John (ADAM TRESE), and uncle, Peter (ERIC SHEFFER STEVENS), clean out their abandoned and long-shuttered summer lake house. The windows have been boarded up and extra locks are on the doors to keep out vandals and squatters, and the three must work by flashlight and other such lighting sources as the power has been turned off as have the phones.

It's been years since Sarah visited the place and thus she can't seem to remember Sophia (JULIA TAYLOR ROSS) who stops by for a visit, commenting on their shared childhood together. They agree to get together later that night, but when Sarah goes back inside, strange things start occurring. With Peter away for a while, Sarah has her dad explore the house for the potential source of odd sounds she's heard.

John ends up badly injured, and from that point on, things quickly go downhill as Sarah ends up by herself with one or more strangers seemingly being in the house, with her locked in and repeatedly having to hide from them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Dear filmmakers, both new and old. Yes, Steadicams -- devices used to give handheld and other in-motion cameras a smooth look -- were once expensive pieces of gear. And yes, I understand -- at least in principle -- what you're trying to achieve with bouncy camerawork. But for all that is holy in terms of motion sickness and good filmmaking, please spend a few extra bucks, invest in some sort of motion dampening device and get back to making decent movies without falling in with the "in-crowd" of filmmakers who mistakenly believe that their movies should be delivered like a James Bond martini, shaken not stirred.

At least the latest cheapie handheld flick, "Silent House," isn't of the found footage or point of view variety that's taken over horror and low-cost moviemaking of recent to the point of possibly driving up sales of Dramamine and such related products. That doesn't really excuse all of the bouncy camerawork, however, or the overall structure of the plot that starts out promisingly enough but quickly devolves into recycled redundancy.

As helmed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (based on the original film by Gustavo Hernandez), the film somewhat follows the notion of their earlier film, "Open Water," in sticking its characters in situations in which they can't easily escape. While the former was about a couple stuck in the middle of the vast ocean with sharks lurking about just beneath the surface, this one places its characters inside an old, boarded up summer home that's being cleaned out for sale.

Despite it being sunny outside, all of the plywood and such, not to mention the power having been turned off, has resulted in the interior equivalent of a spooky house at night. There's stuff everywhere, from old clutter to sheets covering things and plenty of doors behind which the ghosts, demons and/or intruders can hide, jump out and thus spook both the protagonist and the viewer.

Early on, that setup works fairly well as a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen), her father (Adam Trese), and that man's brother (Eric Sheffer Stevens) work on the house, illuminated by lanterns, flashlights and other such devices. Sarah hasn't been there for years, but you'd still think she'd remember playing with her childhood friend (Julia Taylor Ross) who's stopped by for a visit.

The peculiarity of that segues back into the house as strange noises occur, thus necessitating the standard slow-walk exploration of dread, where we know something is likely to pounce, pop or otherwise scare the heebie-jeebies out of the woman in some related fashion. As that unfolds, we're left to wonder if this is the work of the aforementioned squatters who vandalized the previously vacant house; spirits from the past; some sort of possession-ready demon; or maybe a miffed Steadicam salesperson who's upset the filmmakers didn't buy any of their gear.

In all actuality, it's quite easy to figure out what's going on, thanks to two particular sets of obvious clues that pretty much leave no other possible conclusion. I'm no expert on figuring such things out -- I didn't see the big twist coming in "The Sixth Sense" -- and thus if I got the twist here with very little effort, I'm guessing I won't be alone in such regards.

If that's the case for anyone else, they'll then be subjected to repeated scenes of Olsen's character hearing something, slowly going to investigate, and then having to hide somewhere while trying not to make any noise despite being in full panic mode. A little of that can go a long way, but the filmmaking duo goes for the wash, rinse and repeat tactic to the point that there's no oil or body left in this cinematic hair.

It doesn't help that certain things don't always play out believably. Granted, much of that is explained once the twist is revealed, but even then some of what's offered doesn't hold up under any degree of hindsight-based examination and scrutiny.

I can't say if the same holds true for claims that the film was shot in one long continuous take. It mostly seems that it was, but there are moments where cuts could have been made, and there are now reports that the film was altered from the original one shot.

Even if it's not, Olsen deserves some praise at least for the stamina of pretty much being the center of focus for the entire 90-some minute runtime (the rest of the performers don't really amount to much, collectively or individually). While not as amazing as she was in "Martha Marcy May Marlene," she's fairly believable in the role, at least early on before things get repetitive. But it doesn't help that we know next to nothing about her.

Cinematographer Igor Martinovic also clearly deserves kudos for moving the camera in and out of rooms along and around her and the cast members. That occasionally leads to some interesting shots and added moments of creepiness, and clearly demonstrates either a heavily choreographed schedule of movement or just a good sense of space and ability to avoid bumping into people or things.

I just wish the filmmakers had been as agile in keeping the plot interesting. Had they thrown in a variety of plausible explanations for what transpires, that likely could have prevented figuring out the secret before the intended point. After all, in "The Shining," Stanley Kubrick kept viewers off balance, questioning if Jack Torrance was bedeviled by inner demons, spirits inhabiting the Overlook Hotel or both.

And he did so with fluid camera movement sans any shakes -- yes, courtesy of a Steadicam -- that's still one of the things most people remember about that terrific horror flick. It's highly unlikely the shaky camerawork or most anything else about this flick will be recalled a year from now. "Silent House" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed March 5, 2012 / Posted March 9, 2012

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