Elizabeth Olsen in "Silent House." (Open Road Films, Associated…)
In "Silent House," based on the recent Uruguayan film "La Casa Muda," a young woman, her father and uncle are closing up a country house filled with old memories and occasionally the odd squatter. Boarded up and with faulty electricity, the house has an eerie, funereal pall inside even as the sun shines outdoors. In almost no time, things take a very dark turn.
Filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau previously made the pared thriller "Open Water," about scuba divers stranded in the ocean with sharks circling close by, and with "Silent House" they have again created a film around a singular conceptual conceit: The movie is constructed to seem like one continuous shot. It's the same device Alfred Hitchcock famously employed for "Rope," though digital technology now makes the feat less impressive.
The real-time aspect of the story actually plays here more as a structural weakness, as far too much happens within what seems too short a span of time.
Actress Elizabeth Olsen, as the young woman stalked around the creepy dark house, does much of the same internalized panic as in her breakout role in last year's "Martha Marcy May Marlene." She is always compellingly watchable, but with a much weaker film surrounding her performance, the impact of her work in "Silent House" is greatly diminished.
While there is something inventive in how the filmmakers have Olsen frequently carrying a lantern to provide her own soft glamour lighting, it's becomes laughable the way time and again one can imagine the instruction from behind the camera to raise her arm just a bit higher to better feature her cleavage.
The film is at its best as a fast-paced enigma. When Kentis and Lau start explaining what's actually going on, "Silent House" takes a turn not just for the worse but the ludicrous.
Sometimes you don't want to know what is lurking in the dark because the answer is just too obvious and dumb.