**1/2 (out of four)
Maybe Elizabeth Olsen should stick to big cities.
In the tremendously unsettling “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” escaping a cult for a quiet lake house wasn't enough to calm the demons in Martha's (Olsen) head. Now in “Silent House,” returning to a childhood vacation home quickly goes from Sarah (Olsen) admiring the water nearby to being trapped in a house without power, where she hears the footsteps of an intruder.
Incidents like this make people want a vacation from their vacation.
Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (the terrifying “Open Water”) and adapted from the low-budget Uruguayan thriller “La Casa Muda (‘The Silent House’),” “Silent House” shares its source material’s concept of being shot in one continuous take. That’s an excellent tactic for building tension. We see only what Sarah sees, and paranoia escalates with more force than, say, the real-time gimmick of Johnny Depp’s “Nick of Time” that just reminds you how long until the movie ends.
Like every other creepy house movie, “Silent House” has a trick up its sleeve, but the explanation feels arbitrarily chosen from any number of other plausible and ultra-familiar horror finales. And by “plausible,” I mean something that ultimately doesn’t really make sense.
While the flick doesn’t have fun with its premise like Ti West’s recent, superior “The Innkeepers,” “Silent House” echoes dread throughout an uncertain darkness. Olsen is never more haunting than when hiding around a corner, barely able to contain her fear. Unjustly overlooked for an Oscar nomination for “MMMM,” Olsen makes standard set-ups troubling; I can only assume the audience’s frequent laughter was a defense mechanism.
If not—considering the movie has no unintentional laughs whatsoever—I’m disturbed that people would find humor in a young girl searching around in the dark, believably scared for her life.
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