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Husband-and-wife directorial team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau direct this suspense horror remake starring Elizabeth Olsen. Sarah (Olsen) has returned to the remote country house where she spent her childhood summers to help pack it up and prepare it for sale. While she is alone in the unoccupied, dimly-lit house, mysterious creaking noises start to emanate from upstairs and Sarah soon finds herself caught in the grip of terror.
For more about Silent House and the Silent House Blu-ray release, see Silent House Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 16, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
Directors: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
» See full cast & crew
Silent House Blu-ray Review
Real fear in real time? Not exactly...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 16, 2012
The long take has long been the calling card of daring and dauntless filmmakers. Orson Welles' opening shot in Touch of Evil (one of the first and still one of the most effective). Martin Scorsese's walk through the Copacabana in Goodfellas. Michelangelo Antonioni's climactic hotel-room assassination in The Passenger. Robert Altman's largely improvisational introduction to his Hollywood wheelers-and-dealers in The Player. Quentin Tarantino's stroll through the House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill: Volume One. Park Chan-wook's blistering hallway fight in Oldboy. Kathryn Bigelow's jacked-in robbery in Strange Days. Paul Thomas Anderson's strut into a '70s disco in Boogie Nights. John Woo's final shootout in Hard Boiled. Gaspar Noé's surreal flight through life after death in Enter the Void... the list goes on and on.
Silent House, though, like its 2010 Uruguayan counterpart La casa muda, is one of only a handful of films shot -- or rather carefully edited to appear as if they were shot -- in real-time with one long, continuous take. Hitchcock's 1948 thriller Rope, cleverly constructed from takes lasting up to ten minutes, was the first (and arguably the most remarkable). And, some fifty years later, Alexander Sokurov actually pulled off the feat in the critically acclaimed Russian Ark, a period piece composed of a single, legitimate 96-minute take. Sadly, Silent House's seemingly single take and Elizabeth Olsen's razor's edge performance are the only things that make sitting through the surprisingly listless and increasingly implausible remake somewhat bearable.
Silent House doesn't weave a narrative so much as it weaves a real-time, 80-minute plummet into complete and utter panic. A young woman named Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen), her father, John (Adam Trese), and her uncle, Peter, (Eric Sheffer Stevens) return to their family's remote lakeside retreat in the hopes of fixing it up and selling it. But when Peter heads into town for supplies and John disappears while checking on a strange noise upstairs, Sarah finds herself at the mercy of someone else: an unseen assailant that took up residence in the house in recent years, long after the retreat was boarded up and left to the elements. It's clear that another force is at work, though. Is it a ghost? The house itself? Or something else entirely? Something more sinister and unseen? She doesn't really care to find out. Fear takes over, hysteria sets in, and Sarah's mental state begins to deteriorate.
Olsen is terrific and terrificly cast. Holding nothing back, she gives herself over to co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau and, take after take, scene after scene, breathes, cries and screams herself hoarse. It's already impressive if you buy into the illusion of the film being shot in one continuous take. But it's even more impressive broken into segments, if only because Kentis, Lau and Olsen so shrewdly manage to make her descent into wholesale terror such a fluid and convincing spiral downward. It's just a shame the rest of the movie doesn't keep pace with its talented young star. Stevens and Trese's stagy performances aren't nearly as compelling as that of the house, much less Olsen, and her co-stars (Julia Taylor Ross included) telegraph far too many punches far too early in the film. It's almost laughable. If you're paying the least bit of attention, you'll have the secrets of Silent House figured out within fifteen minutes. Lau's minimalistic script, what little of it there was at sixty pages, offers very little in terms of character, delivers even less when it comes to Sarah's childhood and recent history, and doesn't really give the actors anything meaningful to say.
The titular house isn't much better. Aside from the requisite cobwebbed corners, creepy-crawly rooms, and a basement ripped straight out of a nightmare, there isn't a lot that sets Kentis and Lau's possibly haunted house apart from any other spooky mansion Hollywood has hacked up over the years. Its all-too-literal labyrinth of rooms, staircases and corridors are as confounding and contrived as the film's ending, and only made that much more confusing by the seventy-second tight closeup, eighty-third nauseating whip-pan, and four-hundred and thirty-third juke and shake of director of photography Igor Martinovic's handheld cameras. Not that Martinovic is to blame. He gives Kentis and Lau everything they ask for and more (despite his sometimes reckless love affair with shallow depth of field) and comes to the rescue time and time again. (12- minute file record limits? No problem. Lens issues? No worries. Scurry down a crane, move across a sunny yard, and move into a dark house with a consumer-grade HD cam presenting all sorts of problems? Good to go.) Still, technical know-how and consecrated genre cinematography only goes so far. Silent House suffers from a severe lack of scares, fails to generate the same level of tension Olsen brings to the screen, plays like a lengthy expansion of Heather's breakdown in The Blair Witch Project, and doesn't build a remotely solid foundation to hold up its rickety all-or-nothing ending.
Silent House Blu-ray, Video Quality
Before getting to Silent House and its 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer, it's important to define the differences between artistic intention, encoding anomalies, and unintended inheritance. Filmmaker's intention includes any element the director, cinematographer or editor deliberately includes or features in a finalized presentation, regardless of how subjectively pleasing or displeasing that element may be. Encoding anomalies are just that: imperfections that are exclusive to a particular encode. These imperfections do not appear in the theatrical presentation and are caused by the relative limitations of 1080p resolution and current high definition technology. Finally, there's unintended inheritance (or, perhaps more clearly, source defects). These are issues, discrepancies and inconsistencies that trace back to the cameras and equipment used during filming or post-production. Banding or noise may be caused by a less-than-perfect encode, or they may be inherent to the original photography or image. Something like shallow depth of field, on the other hand, typically falls under the intention umbrella.
Which brings us to Silent House and its problematic presentation. Shot using inexpensive Canon EOS 5D Mk II high definition handheld cameras, the film is haunted by a number of inherited issues. Banding, ranging from mild to severe, appears throughout and huddles around almost every bright light source. Various types of noise surge and relent as the already troubled lighting rises and falls. Rolling shutter artifacts -- dubbed the "jello effect" for good reason, as quick pans produce warped, curved and wobbly edges -- become obvious when Sarah briefly escapes the house and runs outside. Black levels are sometimes muted or chalky, and rarely bottom out. And a grid of tough-to-spot, evenly spaced vertical lines stretch across and hover over the entire image (to see them, focus on the screen itself, not the movie, when the camera pans during a drably lit sequence). Yes, it takes an eagle-eyed videophile to spot some of it, especially the vertical lines, but they're all there, lurking in the murky shadows itching to pounce on anyone who notices them. (In other words, don't go looking for them unless you're prepared to be distracted for remainder of the film. What has been seen cannot be unseen.) These issues should not be attributed to intention, though, or given a free pass when evaluating the presentation. Co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau have made it clear they would have rather shot the film using more advanced cameras.
Get to the point! Alright, alright. For all intents and purposes, Universal's AVC-encoded transfer is a faithful presentation; one that even has some merit. Fine detail is well-resolved (whenever the camera isn't hurrying down a hall or violently thrashing), closeups reveal a good amount of detail, skintones are nicely saturated, and colors, when given enough light to breathe, are lovely and vibrant. Black levels are still quite stubborn, with washed-out, overly bright shadows that tend to neuter any true sense of claustrophobia or fear, and contrast is inconsistent (another side effect produced by the finicky Canon EOS 5D Mk II). Be that as it may, there are far too many distractions and unintended issues (inherited or no) to give the Silent House video presentation high marks. Those who are only concerned with source faithfulness will be more kind, I'm sure. I draw my line at intention, though. If Kentis and Lau made an artistic decision to feature rampant banding, vertical lines and other oddities in their film, I'd be the first to cheer the results. As is? It's a decent but flawed presentation that does more harm than good.
Silent House Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Second verse, same as the first. Kentis and Lau faced countless challenges while attempting to capture all the natural sounds featured in Silent House. First and foremost, Olsen had to be followed through the house by an entire crew of people (among them the cinematographer, camera operator, and supporting performers), all of whom made an unruly ruckus as they ran after the agile actress through the supposedly "silent" house. Try as they did to muffle the noise of their feet and equipment using all manner of footwear and padding, nothing worked. Worse, the co-directors abandoned every attempt to fix these scenes using ADR, as they felt Olsen's performance in the recording booth wasn't nearly as convincing as the breathing, panicking and screaming she unleashed during the three-week shoot. Instead, they had to subject the audio to rigorous editing and mixing. They also didn't rely on a lot of foleying work in the studio since, again, the sounds captured in the actual house were so much more authentic. Then there was the house itself, which lay beneath the flight path of one of the busiest landing strips at LaGuardia Airport. Sound proofing the house was easy enough but, as a direct result, dampened the acoustics of the rooms.
So where did all that leave Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track? Dangling in limbo somewhere between faithful and underwhelming. Dialogue and voices are intelligible but aren't all that clear or consistent; forgivable, considering most of it enhances the atmosphere and on-the-run frenzy of Kentis and Lau's real-time frightfest. The rest of the sound design, though, doesn't enhance the film all that much. The LFE channel provides plenty of power with little direction. A scare or jolt results in an imprecise thoom and little more, while a near-constant, pulsing hum accounts for the majority of the low-end output. Falling boxes, slamming doors and other tricks of the genre trade follow suit but are still either a bit too dull or tinny. The rear speakers do their best to unsettle the listener too, but creep through much of the film without many responsibilities. Even when the third act ratchets up both the tension and the fullness of the soundfield, immersion is lacking and the experience remains largely front-heavy and subdued. It's just unclear how much of the track's shortcomings derive from intention and how much of it derives from any loss or damage done while gutting the raw audio in post-production. Ultimately, the film's DTS-HD Master Audio track is more than adequate and seems to make the most of whatever it's handed.
Silent House Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Silent House only includes a single special feature: a candid, matter-of-fact audio commentary with co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. The duo outline the process of adapting a foreign film, working with a barebones 60-page screenplay, shooting twelve-minute takes in the confines of a house that wasn't specially built to the specifications of a script, creating the illusion of one long take, hosting extensive rehearsals with the actors and crew, and more. Kentis and Lau manage to balance the technical with the informative, providing a take by take breakdown of everything that appears on screen while outlining the difficulties their chosen cameras presented, the solutions they devised for many of their problems, and the particulars of the story, characters and overlying twist. Had their commentary been paired with an equally thorough, perhaps even feature- length production documentary (with rehearsal footage and more), I might have recommend renting Silent House for its extras alone. Instead, the Silent Hill supplemental package is just another disappointment.
Silent House Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Silent House doesn't serve up compelling characters or an engrossing scary story, deliver a competent twist or a satisfying ending, or elicit the unease, instability or sheer terror Olsen brings to her performance. If it weren't for the gimmicky genre pic's young star or single long take trickery, it wouldn't even be worth renting. Unfortunately, Universal's Blu-ray release has its own share of problems, from its precarious video presentation to its less than enveloping DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track to its slim supplemental package. My advice? Approach Silent House with caution.
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