MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Sundance Review: Silent House

I admit to being a bit paranoid about big spooky houses and things that go bump in the night. I can’t imagine that I would ever choose to live in a big, rambling old house so isolated from civilization that my cell phone wouldn’t work in an emergency. That’s just asking for trouble.

And if I did happen to find myself, as Sarah, the protagonist of Silent House does, dragged out to such a remote location by my dad and uncle to do some long overdue clean-up and remodeling of the dusty, long-neglected vacation estate where I spent much of my childhood, and the house had no electricity because rats had chewed through the wiring so we had to move about using only lanterns, and if I started hearing spooky noises like people walking around upstairs when no one else is supposed to be there? I think it’s unlikely I would go roaming through three stories of spooky, dark, moldy house investigating said noises. I would get the hell out of there in a New York minute.

What I would do in such a situation, however, would make for an inherently boring horror movie that would be highly unlikely to be accepted at Sundance. Fortunately, directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (who directed the terrific Open Water, the film responsible for my now permanent aversion to ever going deep-sea scuba diving) know there’s a difference between what your average savvy person would do in such a situation and what makes for a tense, spooky thriller.

Silent House is based on the film La Casa Muda (The Silent House) by Uruguayan director Gustavo Hernandez, which played at Cannes last year. La Casa Muda was notable for being a 79-minute one-shot horror movie, and Kentis and Lau reportedly accomplished the same thing with their take on the story (there was some spirited discussion on the drive home after the screening as to whether the film is, in fact, one continuous shot, but I tend to think it is, at least technically speaking).

The entire film is told from the perspective of Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the Olsen twins, and she is excellent here), who, as aforesaid, is at this house with her dad and uncle. Right from the start, there’s an uneasy vibe: Dad is overbearing and controlling, Uncle Pete has a decidedly creepy vibe. Things start getting curiouser and curiouser, and then scarier and scarier as Kentis and Lau up the ante on the tension, torquing it up to what was for me, at least, almost unbearable at times (by which I mean: I was hiding my eyes through much of it, scrunched down in my seat, and I may have squealed like a girl once or twice, much to the amusement of a couple of my male viewing partners). I’m not going to give away any more of the plot than that, you need to see this one for yourself — it’s wait-listed only at this point, though, so best of luck getting a ticket.

One interesting note: This film for me really speaks to the shift in programming here at Sundance over the past couple years. Silent House is the kind of film that, a few years ago, I would have much more expected to see pop out of Slamdance ala Paranormal Activity, and, in fact, I expect it might get picked up during the fest. It could very well be this year’s Paranormal Activity, actually (and everyone wants one of those, right?)

It’s just the kind of film that lends itself perfectly to the kind of viral marketing that made Paranormal Activity such a surprise success, and I expect it will, for the most part, be a huge Midnight crowd-pleaser and quite likely a buzz film at this year’s Sundance. Some might take issue with the twist it takes at the end, but it worked very well for me. If you’re in Park City, try to score yourself a ticket to see this one.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon