"Silent House" Superficially Spiffs Up the Haunted-House Movie

Olsen: No cell phone reception?! That is scary!

In Silent House, a college-aged young woman, Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), is on break and helping her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) renovate the remote, no-cell-phone-reception lake house where they once vacationed as a family. Then Uncle storms off after a round of fraternal bickering, Dad disappears with the keys after going upstairs to investigate a mysterious thump — there have been drifters and vandals about — and Sarah is left to fend for herself, playing hide-and-seek in a locked, boarded-up house with a half-glimpsed, uninvited guest who makes the floorboards groan ominously and seizes at her with pale arms from out of frame. The hook is that Silent House's action unfolds in 88 minutes of unedited screen time in what appears for all purposes to be one continuous take. This plays into the contemporary mania among horror movies for sustaining a pretense of verisimilitude while going one better than the much-flogged dead horses of the surveillance-camera (Paranormal Activity) and found-footage (The Blair Witch Project) films. It's an impressive feat of choreography, but in single-mindedly concentrating on headlong "immediacy," reality-horror filmmakers have tended to lose, in their rush, the indelible image, those moments that puncture the mind and leave a festering wound after the credits roll, the transcriptions of nightmares we didn't know we had. While Silent House does superficially spiff up the haunted-house movie, it's not built to last.

Not screened in time for review:

• Friends With Kids

• John Carter

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