Silent House (review)

Silent House red light Elizabeth Olsen

If I had known, before I saw Silent House, that it was the work of the filmmaking team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, who made the slyly disturbing Open Water, I’d have been even more disappointed when I stepped out of the screening room. Because Open Water is absolutely brilliant, and it took them eight years to follow up with… this? As an exercise in style and performance, there’s certainly a unique significance here: like a piece of cinematic theater, it features the truly wonderful Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) as a young woman locked into her family’s remote vacation house — now crumbling into disrepair — while someone stalks her through the manse, all presented in what looks like (but actually isn’t) one uncut stretch of 80-something movie minutes. Olsen is, without question, one of the most intriguing, most thrilling young talents to burst onto the scene in years, and she’s very very good here… so good that I wished the movie was kinder to her as a talent (if not necessarily kinder to her character). For as Silent House — based on the 2010 Uruguayan film by Gustavo Hernández — progressed, I began to actively despise it, until it cemented for itself the reasons it deserves to be despised. Because it employs, with glee, a hoary trope of horror movies: the sexualized terror of a young woman (moans and heavy breathing in the dark; the camera constantly staring down her low-cut top at her heaving breasts). And then, in its final explanation for what is happening to its protagonist, it turns around and wants to be feminist. Many horror movies are misogynist by their very natures, and that’s offensive enough. But when a film that wants to champion women and push back against the abuses we are often subjected to treats the young woman at its core so abysmally, I get angry. Without spoiling: there are those who clearly are intended to be punished here, and yet they escape comparatively unscathed by the treatment of the filmmakers while the woman who is meant to be sympathetic is reduced to an object. That’s not right.

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