This ‘Silent House’ Goes Bump in the Night

The Sundance films shown in the Park City at Midnight category offer up some bizarre or extreme selections that are either full of silly camp or drenched in cheap horror thrills. Silent House, a haunted house psychothriller, would fall in the horror genre but with its ambitious execution, goes beyond the cheap.

Supposedly shot on one continuous take on a hand-held camera, it is a seamless film shown through the claustrophobic perspective of Sarah. With their house being cleaned out and boarded up for sale, Sarah, her father and uncle help sort out an assortment of furniture to be packed up and moved out.  Gradually the shadows and darkness make a huge presence when strange thumps and footsteps are heard through the walls and floorboards. Mysterious sounds make for good terrorizing spirits as the film becomes a haunted thrill ride. But the noisy, thumping sounds reveal themselves as intruders ready to imprison Sarah inside her own home.

As played with mesmerizing anguish by Elizabeth Olsen, it is a physical and mostly breathy and wordless performance. Olsen is convincingly tortured and fearful during extended stretches of heartstopping moments. Igor Martinovich as the cinematographer keeps the focus tight and close on Olsen’s emotionally wrought facial expressions and cagey eyes. The lighting and silhouetted shadowplay are key to the unsettling darkness featured in the labyrinthine corridors of this old house.

The dialogue is trite and the acting by Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer-Stevens as the father and uncle are oddly stiff. But the premise and setup by the directing team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau create a chilling and visually cautious film that is a remarkable step above other haunted house frightfests. An easily marketable film for Halloween, this film toys with your mind in creative uses of simple light play and audio effects. Just don’t watch it in a quiet house.

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The Australian drama Mad Bastards is an atmospheric and brutish story about the masculine ideals of the Aborigninal community. Brendan Fletcher directs this heavy-handed film filled with butch fighting and shades of domestic abuse. Watching this film, I could not decipher most of the thickly accented Australian accent that was unintelligible because of the way the Aborigines slur all the words together in a monotonous inflection. What I gathered about the term “mad bastards” is that it is Australian defense slang for punks.

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