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Home / Career / Film Productions
Silent House
005.jpg Original Release: March 9, 2012
Genre: Drama | Horror | Mystery
Running time: 87 minutes
Directed by: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Screenplay by: Laura Lau
Produced by: Agnes Mentre, Laura Lau
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Box Office: $13.1 million

A girl is trapped inside her family’s lakeside retreat and becomes unable to contact the outside world as supernatural forces haunt the house with mysterious energy and consequences.

Cast & Characters

Elizabeth Olsen (Sarah), Adam Trese (John), Eric Sheffer Stevens (Peter), Julia Taylor Ross (Sophia), Adam Barnett (Stalking Man), Haley Murphy (Little Girl).


Production Photos

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Production Notes

The script for the film was written by Laura Lau, and based on the Uruguayan film La casa muda (2010). According to Lau, she saw the original film twice and wrote the script for the remake based on the viewings rather than adapting it from paper. The script ultimately came out to around fifty-five to sixty pages, which left the filmmakers concerned as to whether or not the timing would translate during filming: “We wondered whether it would time out properly, because there are no cuts,” said Lau. “There’s no way to fix anything in post, it has to pace perfectly when you shoot it. So I think that was a huge challenge in terms of writing the script.” Upon acquiring the house used for filming, Lau re-wrote the script in order for it to be compatible with the restrictions and characteristics of the house.

In terms of the film’s unique presentation (being presented as a single take following one character), Lau said: “This entire movie is this woman’s experience; it is her reality […] it is one character’s point of view, it’s exactly what she’s experiencing.” She also stated that several aspects of the film were purposefully left open for interpretation. While writing the script for the film, Lau did extensive research on childhood sexual abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder stemming from psychological trauma.

Although the film’s marketing campaign (as well as the promotion for the original film La casa muda) states that it is inspired by actual events, the specific events are not entirely known. According to Lau, she and Kentis were told, when approached to make the film, that it was based on an occurrence in Uruguay, though the details were left ambiguous:

When we were approached to do the remake, the first thing that we were told, aside from the fact that it was a single take, was that it was based on a true story, and that the true story had to do with something that happened in a village in Uruguay like, 60 years ago, where there were dead bodies and incest was involved.

In terms of casting, Kentis and Lau sought an actress with theatrical training due to the demanding nature of the filming process; Elizabeth Olsen was cast as the lead after impressing Kentis and Lau with her audition.

The movie was shot with Canon EOS 5D Mark II cameras between October and November 2010 on location at a house in New Rochelle, New York. The house used in the film was found by directors Kentis and Lau entirely empty, and was wallpapered and filled with props and furniture by the production design.

Due to the unique nature of the film’s presentation as a single take, the production crew ran into several technical issues while filming, mainly surrounding lighting issues and mobility around the house. Since filming was carried out in 12-15 minute takes, there were several occurrences where entire sequences had to be thrown out and re-done repeatedly due to lighting problems or missed cues.

Although the promotional material for the film suggests that it was filmed in real time in a single long take, Elizabeth Olsen revealed that the movie was actually filmed in 12-minute takes and edited so as to appear as one, which was later confirmed by Kentis and Lau.

Directors Kentis and Lau stated that they were inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Russian Ark (2002), both purported single take films, as well as the home invasion thriller The Strangers (2008). Due to the unconventional filming process and storytelling mode, Kentis felt he was making an “experimental film.” He also stated that the presentation and storytelling mode of the film as a single take was the main focus of the production, and that the fact that there were cuts in the film was irrelevant.

Trivia

  • Contrary to the marketing’s claim that the film was shot in one uninterrupted take, the entire movie was actually shot to mimic one continuous real-time take, with no cuts from start to finish, as a result the time span of the film’s plot is exactly 86 minutes. It was shot in roughly 10 minute segments then carefully edited to hide the cuts. This was confirmed in an interview by Elizabeth Olsen and the directors.
  • Due to the unique nature of the film’s presentation as a single take, the production crew ran into several technical issues while filming, mainly surrounding lighting issues and mobility around the house. Since filming was carried out in 12-15 minute takes, there were several occurrences where entire sequences had to be thrown out and re-done repeatedly due to lighting problems or missed cues.
  • Elizabeth Olsen stated during an interview that she suffered from nightmares during filming simply because she would think of frightening things throughout the day.
  • Elizabeth Olsen is in every single scene of the film and the story is told from her point of view, the film never shifts to another character’s perspective.
  • The film’s plot begins roughly around 5:52 PM and ends at 7:18 PM.
  • This is a remake of the Uruguayan horror thriller film La casa muda (2010) which employed the same “continuous” take technique.
  • In terms of the film’s unique presentation (being presented as a single take following one character), Laura Lau said: “This entire movie is this woman’s experience; it is her reality […] it is one character’s point of view, it’s exactly what she’s experiencing.” She also stated that several aspects of the film were purposefully left open for interpretation.
  • Upon acquiring the house used for filming, the directors rewrote the script in order for it to be compatible with the restrictions and characteristics of the house.
  • When writing the script for the film it ultimately resulted in only 55 pages which left the filmmakers concerned as to whether or not the timing would translate well during filming. In regards to this dilemma, director Laura Lau said, “We wondered whether it would time out properly because there are no cuts, there’s no way to fix it in post it has to pace perfectly when you shoot it. So I think that was a huge challenge in terms of writing the script”.
  • Chris Kentis and Laura Lau faced countless challenges while attempting to capture all the natural sounds featured in the film. First off, Elizabeth 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 disturbances as they ran after Olsen through the 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 3 week shoot. Instead, they had to subject the audio to rigorous editing and mixing. They also didn’t rely on a lot of post-production Foley work in the studio since, again, the sounds captured in the actual house were 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.

Release & Reception

The film opened at number 5 at the United States box office, earning $6,661,234 during its opening weekend, showing on 2,124 screens. It would go on to show in theaters until late April 2012, grossing a total of $12,754,783 domestically. In foreign markets, it grossed a total of USD$346,889.

Internet review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shows the film has a score of 41% based on reviews from 125 critics, with the site’s consensus: “Silent House is more technically proficient and ambitious than most fright-fests, but it also suffers from a disappointing payoff.” The film received a harsh reception from audiences, earning an “F” grade from CinemaScore surveys (only the second movie of the year to receive the failing grade along with The Devil Inside); as of April 2020, it is one of only 19 films to receive such a rating.

Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times praised Olsen’s performance and the cinematography. Some publications, such as The Daily Telegraph, applauded Olsen’s performance, calling it “brilliantly nervy and detailed”, while Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said Olsen “isn’t as interesting as she was in Martha Marcy May Marlene“, and said the film, despite being atmospheric, “feels like a copy”. Nonetheless, he awarded the film a 3/5 star rating. The Star Tribune described the film as “a psychotic episode come to life”, and that it “follows the form of a Gothic novel”, applauding it as being “impressive and oppressive”. Others praised the technical production of the film, such as The Atlantic, who noted “the camera’s unblinking eye constantly stays with Olsen, and we feel in as much danger as she is.” Jonathan Crocker of Total Film described the camera as “gliding with impressive agility, the queasy HD lensing closes in tight and tracks Olsen’s petrified face, room to room”, and, although critical of the film’s ending, called the film “brutally effective” and “a fun campfire horror tale”

Other critics found the film’s technicality unappealing, with Rob Gonsalves of eFilmcritic saying “the underlit setting occasionally produces unsettling, suggestive imagery, but the technique took me out of the movie,” while The Observer accused the film of “wasting the talent of Elizabeth Olsen.” The staff of The A.V. Club named it one of the worst movies of 2012, noting its “mediocrity takes a downward turn in a final act that hinges on an icky, exploitative twist.” Roger Ebert awarded the film two out of four stars, writing: “My attention was held for the first act or so. Then any attempt at realism was abandoned, and it became clear that the house, and the movie containing it, were devices to manufacture methodical thrills. The explanation, if that’s what it was, seemed devised and unconvincing.”

David Edelstein of Vulture praised the film, defending it against the perceived critical backlash, writing: “It’s odd that the CinemaScore rating for Silent House, a more than decent gimmicky scare picture that opened last Friday, is an “F” — suggesting that critics like me are more excited by formal inventiveness than most of the film-going public.” In a 2017 retrospective by Film School RejectsSilent House was named one of the most “underrated” horror films of the twenty-first century. Psychologist Sharon Packer notes the film as an example of dissociative identity disorder in contemporary horror films, alongside other genre films such as High Tension (2005) and The Uninvited (2009).

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