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It's a big job, cleaning up this old lake house, but, as they say, somebody's got to do it.
Sarah, her dad and Uncle Peter may be rubbing each other raw in frustration right now, but she's sure they'll get everything sorted out and prepped for sale soon enough. It sure is a mess, though. Rust has ruined the plumbing. Mold has infested the walls. Something's eaten out the electrical system. And to top it all off, some kids broke in, defaced the place and busted out the windows. Uncle Peter boarded everything up to keep the rain out, of course. But with the power out, now it's as black as pitch inside.
It's also weird to be back at the old family home after all these years. Just being here is drawing out strange emotions in Sarah. Strange shadowy, crumbling, peeling emotions that feel as bad as this run-down old house looks.
And then there's that neighbor girl Sophia who showed up out of the blue. She's the same twentysomething age as Sarah and says they used to play together. But Sarah just can't seem to place her. In fact, there are a number of holes in Sarah's memories about this place …
But just about the time she starts to focus on those lost memories and odd feelings, she hears footsteps upstairs. Footsteps shrouded in black shadow. Did someone just close a door? Wait a minute! Dad and Uncle Pete are working in the basement. So who's upstairs? Could somebody else be breaking in?
Or is it something … far worse?
On the face of things, Sarah's a concerned daughter who puts her life on the line to try to protect her dad. Also on the face of things, Uncle Peter is a loving family member who strides in to protect those he loves.
(Of course, in a psychological horror film, things aren't always as straight-forward as they first might appear.)
Although there is at times an indication that something otherworldly might be at play, there is ultimately no spiritual connection to the dark events we witness here.
Sarah wears a thin and low-cut tank top under an open sweater. Several times her running, crawling and jumping reveal quite a bit of skin as the camera observes her curves from, shall we say, awkward vantage points.
There's the intimation of sexual abuse perpetrated against a 6-year-old girl, as men take Polaroid snapshots and talk of it being "just a game we play." And even though we don't actually see the pictures they take …
… we come to realize the painful and scarring effects their taking have on the girl. We see her at one point quietly hunched forward, naked, in a bathtub full of water and floating beer bottles. A few moments later the bathwater is tinged red with blood.
Sarah is violently slapped across the face hard enough to knock her to the ground. After that, her abuser removes his belt and strikes her prone form with it several times. Sarah shoots a gun three times at a figure in the stairwell. (We don't know if any of the bullets strike home.) She also lashes out with a pair of pruning shears, cutting a woman's palm.
We see the aftermath of several bloodily violent encounters. Sarah's father is beaten, for instance, leaving a large gash over his eye. We see him fall forward onto his daughter, smearing blood on her face, shoulder and shirt. Uncle Peter is also attacked as the lights flash off. We see him then with blood streaming from his ear and a side wound staining his shirt red. After a man is hit several times with a sledgehammer, we see a large pool of blood near his dead body. Blood mysteriously wells up on a bed sheet. Blood trickles, then pours from what looks like a toilet basin or a bedpan that's been nailed up on a bathroom wall.
Sarah accidentally slashes her own wrist; she pulls back her sleeve to reveal the deep wounds. She finds her wounded father, gagged and tied up under a plastic tarp. There's lots of wall thumping and door slamming, along with close-up moments of Sarah, panicked to the point of near convulsiveness, hiding from the horror surrounding her.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. A few uses each of the s-word, "a‑‑" and "d‑‑n." Jesus' name is abused three or four times, as is God's name (once in combination with "d‑‑n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Sarah drinks a bottle of beer. Another young woman tries to pour beer into Sarah's father's mouth, and she hands Sarah a glass of booze too. We see beer bottles and bottles of hard liquor sitting on a small table in the dining room.
Other Negative Elements
At the beginning of the press screening I attended for Silent House, the studio representative dramatically announced that the movie we were about to see was a terrifying "88 minutes shot in real time." We definitely could not, under any circumstances, he continued, "reveal the incredible twist at the end." This hyped intro immediately made me hearken back to the circus tent movie days of "Sensurround" and "Smell-O-Vision," advertised bits of big screen gimmickry designed to spark imaginations and draw the early weekend crowds looking for a thrill.
And, indeed, based loosely on the Uruguayan film La Casa Muda, Silent House is very much that kind of gimmicky flick. It's a cringing campfire story told in unbroken fashion without scene changes, montages or quick cuts. It's sort of like a creepy stage play that's both thump-in-the-dark scary and unintentionally funny. It can surprise us with its creative and slippery sleight of hand, right after numbing us with clumsily delivered dialogue and yet another hide-under-the-bed sequence.
This is also a down and dirty, or should I say down and bloody horror movie. Yes, the blood can sometimes look like it came straight out of a backstage bottle, but there's enough of it pouring out that it ends up not mattering much how real it looks. Add foul language, child abuse and misogynistic battering, and the R-rated noise is as loud as a hundred creaky floorboards and at least a dozen or so rusty-hinged doors.
There. And I've managed to say all that without revealing this predictable panic pic's, um, big twist.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah; Adam Trese as John; Eric Sheffer Stevens as Peter; Julia Taylor Ross as Sophia
Laura Lau ( ), Chris Kentis ( Open Water)
Open Road Films
March 9, 2012
July 24, 2012