Article by: Coop Cooper
A.K.A. The Small Town Critic
Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) accompanies her father (Adam Trese) and Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) to their old summer home in upstate New York to pack up their belongings before selling it. The house is without power and has been vandalized by local hoodlums, prompting boards on all of the windows and padlocked chains on the doors. After her uncle leaves she runs into an old childhood friend in the front yard whom she doesn’t seem to remember. Back inside the house, her father disappears and she soon finds herself trapped inside and menaced by unseen intruders.
While the premise is familiar, the method behind its filming is an oddity. “Silent House” is presented as one long, continuous take that lasts the duration of the entire film which clocks in around 1 hour and 20 minutes. It was carefully choreographed and shot on a top-of-the-line DSLR still camera, the Canon 5D Mark II (retailing for about $2000), with minimal crew and equipment. Those who know this equipment realize that one long continuous shot is impossible. The camera and media have a 12 minute recording limit, so very creative transitions were needed to hide the cuts.
Alfred Hitchcock tried a similar experiment with the film “Rope” in which he used rotating sets for his 10-minute scene takes (the time limitation for a film magazine) to present the film as if it were a live-action play unfolding in front of the audience. However, whereas Hitchcock was tied down by large cameras on dollies and a soundstage, “Silent House” goes the handheld camera route. A few other filmmakers over the years have tried this method – Mike Figgis did something similar with his film “Timecode” – but it is still an experimental process that could easily result in a cinematic disaster, even in the most skilled hands.
“Silent House” is actually a remake of the film “La Casa Muda” from Uruguay. I attempted to watch the original several months ago but became impatient with its slow pace and the lead actress screaming nonstop in subtitles, so I gave up on it halfway through. This American remake is much more compelling, but due to the nature of its filming, there were still long slow parts. A patient viewer might enjoy the relentless suspense and the surreal, twist ending. I’m afraid most audiences will find it too slow and boring to enjoy. It’s not the ‘found footage’ genre they are used to seeing like the successful “Paranormal Activity” films.
If audiences fail to accept “Silent House” it will not be due to the acting. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” star Elizabeth Olsen delivers another fine performance under exceptionally difficult circumstances. While she may have been snubbed for an Oscar for “Martha,” I doubt “Silent House” will give her any further recognition other than impressing filmmakers into casting her into A-list lead roles. I’m still convinced she has an Academy Award on her horizon so keep looking out for her.
So a ‘true’ one-take movie still hasn’t technically happened. The big question is should it? The methods used in “Silent House” and others from the past resulted largely in critical and commercial bombs. To do an entire movie in one single take could be infinitely frustrating. Anything from lousy overacting to a cameraman tripping could ruin even the best take. The technology does currently exist to attempt it. I think most competent filmmakers would know better but eventually someone will give it a shot. Stay tuned for that review when it happens, but unless it’s done with above-average competency like “Silent House,” I won’t even bother to see it.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars