FILMMAKER LAURA LAU is on the telephone talking about “Silent House”, the new horror film she and husband Chris Kentis directed. “We went through the horror genre to look at every option available to us. We wondered how these tropes would play out in a continuous take and hoped that the tension could be sustained.”
Ms. Lau, who wrote the screenplay, looked at many, if not all, the most famous horror films including “The Amityville Horror”, “The Shining” and “Repulsion”. She had concerns about keeping her film’s pulse beating, though once the vision was executed all fell into place.
“Silent House”, which opens across the U.S. and Canada on Friday, stars Lizzie Olsen as Sarah, who helps her father and uncle renovate a lakefront house that will soon be put on the market. Based on Gustavo Hernandez’s 2010 film from Uruguay “La Casa Muda” (based on true events occurring in a house in the 1940s in Uruguay), “Silent House” like its predecessor has a “one shot” take — or at least the effect of one continuous, unbroken 88-minute camera move.
“We shot in all-digital video. There was no coverage, no editing,” Ms. Lau commented on the shooting process, which lasted a scant 15 days. (Mr. Kentis is more forthcoming, admitting in the film’s production notes that “Silent House” is really a series of very long takes, lasting as much as 12 minutes each.) Regardless, the film is seamlessly constructed. “Every camera move had to be right. Every placement of the camera had to be precise. We didn’t have any time for do-overs if something didn’t go according to plan.” Cinematographer Igor Martinovic brought a blend of experience and experimentation that Ms. Lau said she was especially grateful for.
In the film Sarah is convinced that the house she is helping to spruce up holds more than just dust. Of course her dad and uncle don’t take her intuitions too seriously. Ms. Olsen carries “Silent House”, her Sarah’s every move followed on screen for the full 88 minutes. Adam Trese stars as Sarah’s father John, and Eric Sheffer Stevens is Sarah’s uncle Peter.
“Silent House” was filmed after Ms. Olsen’s films “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, all of which were shot in upstate New York and within a few miles of each other. Interestingly enough Ms. Olsen, who lives in Manhattan, didn’t have too far to travel for shooting Ms. Lau’s film.
“The house we found,” said Ms. Lau, “was twenty minutes north of Manhattan. It was perfect. It was so important to have a house that had the right kind of perspective, with a high ceiling. Most of the houses we had looked at didn’t. We got very, very lucky.”
The house Ms. Lau speaks of looks a little like the “Amityville” house and not too dissimilar from the one Norman Bates lives in. Clearly the house is a distinct character in “Silent House” and both it and Sarah essentially feel each other out, with the latter doing more feeling than the former, as Sarah cautiously treads around in a house that makes noises and possesses several secrets that are waiting to be uncovered.
There’s no secret about one thing: Ms. Lau and Mr. Kentis, both accomplished scuba divers, have chronicled terror in wide open spaces before on film yet very intimately due to the peculiarity of the situations. “Open Water” (2004), Ms. Lau and Ms. Kentis’s film (also inspired by true events), was about a couple of divers left to fend for themselves in shark-infested oceanic waters when they are accidentally left behind by a boat crew. (“Open Water” won critical acclaim and a measure of success at the box office.) Just like the large, spacious house in “Silent House”, the waters of “Open Water” fuel unbearable tension and suspense, and the viewer is left to imagine what is happening or about to happen.
“Silent House” is like a trip back in time to smart horror films, those relying on the cerebral as opposed to the visceral. If viewers are looking for so-called “torture porn” horror in “Silent House” they will have to go elsewhere to find it. Told that “Silent House” is a departure from such a genre, Ms. Lau expresses both relief and happiness. She succinctly spells out her m.o. for “Silent House”, which she hopes will strike a chord with audiences of all stripes, horror fans and non-horror fans alike.
The director expressed something that she anticipates any kind of filmgoer can relate to regardless of whether they are horror fans. “There’s a deep sense of intimacy of being across from someone experiencing uncomfortable situations and danger threatening,” said Ms. Lau. “And staying close to that kind of atmosphere and ordeal brings the fear, fear of the darkness, fear of the unknown.”
In the case of Ms. Olsen’s character, Sarah isn’t a damsel in distress or a woman waiting to be rescued by a man. She has to fight through an ordeal while displaying not only fear but skepticism and intelligence. So often women (and men) in horror films are made to look utterly foolish. Either they are calling out in the dark, “who’s there?”, instead of running the other way, or have a radio on so loud they can’t think straight or are too busy having sex, oblivious to their impending fate. There’s certainly elements of physicality in “Silent House” and beyond that, Sarah is nothing if not an intelligent, very attractive protagonist who has a highly sensual awareness of her surroundings.
For the auditions process Ms. Olsen had to demonstrate to Ms. Lau and Mr. Kentis that she was trapped inside of, and then escaping from, a box. She had to do so in thin air — without the aid of a box. Other challenges Ms. Olsen had called on her psychological resources as much as, if not more than, physical ones.
“With Lizzie you are taken on a journey of discovery, and we had a very specific idea of who would do that for us,” Ms. Lau said. “She was perfect for the role of Sarah, and the only actress we really had in mind.”
There’s a lot of innuendo in “Silent House” that is absent from the original Uruguayan film. The innuendo is a creepy character unto itself. “From the very beginning, there’s lots of it, lots of symbolism. We wanted to delve into areas of the true story that weren’t really looked at before,” Ms. Lau said.
“Silent House” is very clever about how innuendo is used and how the fear and terror utilized in processing the undercurrents and overtones of the innuendo fits in to the narrative. The film and its house has a mustiness, and a physicality beyond its lead character, that pulses throughout.
Ms. Lau was asked about the movie’s poster which has a concave-like or narrowed portion of Ms. Olsen’s character screaming surrounded in darkness. In an odd way it looks familiar.
Ms. Lau is told that the “Silent House” poster evokes the Ghostface Killah “Scream 4” poster.
“It’s just a coincidence,” Ms. Lau informs. “I’ve never even seen the ‘Scream 4’ poster.”
(Original story here.)
“Silent House” opens tonight at midnight and wide on Friday across the U.S. and Canada. Earlier this week the film had simultaneous real-time screenings in at least 20 U.S. cities.
For more of Omar’s film stories, movie reviews and interviews visit his Popcorn Reel website and watch his unscripted film reviews on YouTube. Follow him on Twitter.
For a list of Omar’s nextooze.com stories and film reviews, click here. He’s been a contributing film critic for “Ebert Presents At The Movies” on PBS television and is a far flung correspondent for the preeminent film critic Roger Ebert and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
Continue reading on nextooze.com Remembering Stanley Kubrick, who passed away thirteen years ago today (March 7) – San Francisco Indie Movie | nextooze.com http://nextooze.com/indie-movie-in-san-francisco/remembering-stanley-kubrick-who-passed-away-thirteen-years-ago-today-march-7#ixzz1oY1Furgs