Friday, September 21, 2012

Silent House

I reviewed the original, Uruguayan film La Casa Muda a little while ago.  If you’re interested, you can read the review here.  I enjoyed that movie, but I was left with quite a few questions.  But I now have a theory that could explain my problems with that film (and this one, as well).  I’ll get to that in a bit.

The set-up is the same, but the names are different.  Sarah, her father (John), and her uncle (Peter) are trying to fix up their old house in the country in an attempt to sell it.  As they walk through the house, we see just how dilapidated it really is.  John and Peter get into an argument, and Peter storms out of the house.  With John upstairs, Sarah hears a knock on the door and finds a girl named Sophia, who is about her age.  Sophia tells her that they used to be friends, although Sarah doesn’t seem to remember her.  They agree to meet up later, and Sophia leaves.

Sarah heads back upstairs to help her dad.  When he goes into the next room, she hears a strange noise and goes to check it out.  She eventually finds him unconscious on the floor with blood coming out of his head.  And then it’s on.

She freaks out (naturally).  She hears footsteps and hides.  She never really seems to get a good look at the intruder, but it appears to be a fairly large man (6’3”, 250 lbs) wearing camouflage gear and face paint.  (He is credited as “Stalking Man”, which seems appropriate.) 

She tries to escape the house, but runs into a myriad of problems.  The front door is locked from the inside by a key that has gone missing.  The windows are boarded up.  The exit from the basement is locked by a padlock.  And so on.  So Sarah finds herself trapped in this house with a very imposing, very stealthy man stalking her. 

There was a main difference between the original and this version at this point.  In the original, one of my complaints was that she was being stalked, yet she spent quite a bit of time investigating the rooms of the house without paying any attention to anything else, often with her back to the door.  It was frustrating.  This version didn’t have that.  Sarah seemed legitimately scared the entire time, and didn’t find herself distracted by any flights of fancy.  Her sole goal was to find a way out of the house, and then find help for her father.

Eventually she escapes, just in time to find Uncle Peter driving up to the house.  She tells him what is going on, and, against her wishes, he rushes into the house, leaving her in the car by herself.  (This was a pretty tense scene, and I’m pretty sure I jumped.  But I did not scream like a girl.  Because I don’t do those sorts of things.)  She follows him into the house, and, before too long, she finds herself trapped in the house with two unconscious relatives.  Good plan, Uncle Peter.

And it goes on from there.  She’s scared.  She tries to escape.  She is chased.  And so on, and so forth.  Let’s break into a bit of spoiler territory.

Just like in La Casa Muda, Sarah finds that there is no one in the house.  As a young girl, she was sexually abused by her father, and one of her other personalities is the one actually dishing out the beatings.  All of this is completely unknown to Sarah, but she figures it out eventually (in this version, Sophia – one of her personalities – is the one that fills her in on the details).
But there are some differences.  In La Casa Muda, you know for a fact that she was raped.  She even had a daughter who was later killed in an attempt to cover it up.  In Silent House, they never say that she was raped.  All we know for sure is that her father would strip her down and take sexually explicit photographs of her.  We also know that her uncle was present for some of these events, but that he eventually begged her father to stop.  Either way, there was some messed up stuff going on in that house, and she was well within her rights to seek revenge.

Now, for my theory: in my review of La Casa Muda, I talked about how it didn’t make any sense that the camera followed Sarah around for the entire movie in one continuous shot, yet we never saw her attack her father and uncle.  “How could she attack them when she was in the frame the entire time?”  I believe that the camera was following only Sarah’s point of view, not the point of view of Sophia or the Stalking Man, or even the little girl who popped up from time to time.  Since it wasn’t the Sarah personality that was doing the attacking, we didn’t see it.  It seems like a simple concept, yet I didn’t grasp that at all on my first viewing.  That’s on me.  I guess I need to watch more movies.

Overall, I really liked this.  Having seen La Casa Muda already, I pretty much knew where this movie was heading, but even then there were a handful of moments that freaked me out.  It’s difficult to say which movie I liked better, but, for now, I’ll say that I enjoyed this version slightly more than La Casa Muda.  I would attribute that to the fact that Sarah was always focused on eluding her attacker, while Laura (the lead in La Casa Muda) would often take little breaks to look at things in the house.  That same level of frustration was not present in this movie, which was nice.

For such a small movie like this to work, the acting has to be terrific.  And it was.  Elizabeth Olsen was tremendous as Sarah.  Seeing as how the camera followed her for the entire movie, a lesser actress could have really submarined this movie.  But she really carried this, and it was quite impressive to watch.

It’s rolling around to fall.  October is right around the corner.  Pumpkin ales are popping up at grocery stores.  The mood is right for horror movies.  Do yourself a favor and check this one out.  It moves pretty quickly, has a number of legitimately creepy moments, and quite a few effective jump-scares.  This is the movie I had hoped The Strangers would be.

Rating: 5/5

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