Elizabeth Olsen stars as Sarah in SILENT HOUSE, a film by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. Picture courtesy LD Entertainment and Open Road Films. All rights reserved.
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Silent House (2011/2012)
Opened: 03/09/2012 Wide
|AMC Empire 25||03/09/2012 - 04/19/2012||42 days|
|Georgetown 14||03/09/2012 - 04/05/2012||28 days|
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|Showcase Cinem...||03/09/2012 - 03/22/2012||14 days|
Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: R for for disturbing violent content and terror.
SILENT HOUSE is a uniquely unsettling horror thriller starring Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah, a young woman who finds herself sealed inside her family's secluded lake house. With no contact to the outside world, and no way out, panic turns to terror as events become increasingly ominous in and around the house. Directed by filmmaking duo Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, SILENT HOUSE uses meticulous camera choreography to take the audience on a tension-filled, real time journey, experienced in a single uninterrupted shot.
About the Film
The art of cinematic frights is one that has been refined over the last century. Filmmakers have adapted to an evolution of storytelling techniques and tools to deliver heightened suspense - editing, visuals, atmosphere and sound effects, it's a strenuous manipulation of various factors to set an audience on the edge of their movie theater seat.
Strip away some of those principle accoutrements of scare-making, however, and you have SILENT HOUSE. A re-imagining of the Uruguayan film LA CASA MUDA, SILENT HOUSE cleverly deconstructs our perception of how one makes a taut, unnerving thriller in real time.
Akin to Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film ROPE, SILENT HOUSE is told in a continuous camera shot, following Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and the horrifying ordeal she encounters at a summer home over the course of an evening. Where Sarah goes, the camera follows...and so does the audience as she tries to make sense of memories from her past and the mysterious figure stalking her.
Taking on this unique challenge are directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, a duo no stranger to projects calling for tricky production preparation. In 2004, they tackled the shark-infested OPEN WATER. Through SILENT HOUSE producer Agnes Mentre, Kentis and Lau became acquainted with LA CASA MUDA and, together, they jumped at the possibilities an English-language remake presented.
"We were impressed these filmmakers came up with an interesting way to execute their story," says Kentis, "but we wanted to try a few different things with our film. We were really excited about the idea of doing something in a single shot. For a filmmaker, that is big - taking on a new challenge like this and telling a story in this way. You don't get many chances to do something like that."
Once committed to the project, the pair began to deviate from the original film beginning at ground zero: The script. Lau took on writing duties and began intensive research after seeing LA CASA MUDA. "The original was based on a true story that took place in the 1940s in a village in Uruguay," Lau explains, "there was this house and three bodies were found mutilated and incest was involved. The first question I asked myself is what happened, who was involved and why? Incest is a very difficult subject matter, The original stayed away from it, but I felt it was important to be accurate about what would motivate Sarah's actions. It's an extremely serious worldwide problem and it was very very painful for me as I researched and read extensively on the subject." Lau elaborates, "What this film is actually about is a portrait of a woman trapped in trauma. When such horrific secrets are suppressed, it leaves the victim caught in a terrible place. When a young person is abused, they don't have well developed defense mechanisms and in order to survive the overwhelming fear, some victims fragment their identity in order to protect parts of themselves. I was trying to find a way to visually translate the psychological impact of this type of abuse so I studied Dissociative Identity Disorder. I worked especially with a book by Donald Kalsched called "The Inner World of Trauma" which is about Jungian archetypal defenses which is rich with imagery." Lau continues, "Telling this particular story in one continuous shot really made it possible to be intimately bound to Sarah's damaged experience of reality and her terror. Shooting in real time actually allowed us to play with time and memory in a way that corresponded with Sarah's fragmented realities."
Kentis interjects, "The things that matter most about the movie are hard to talk about because we don't want to spoil the ending for our viewers."
Beyond the core themes of the story - something the directors prefer to keep hush-hush - what SILENT HOUSE allowed Kentis and Lau to explore was the multiple sub-genres their film would dabble in and how certain genre tropes were going to be informed by the visual language that was already locked in.
Lau says, "In exploring how to convey Sarah's terror, we were looking at different sub-genres like home invasion, haunted house... Also, we looked at a lot of psychological thrillers like [Roman Polanski's] REPULSION and, of course, we had the original film to go off of.
Kentis adds, "We saw the movie as starting out as being perceived as a home invasion story, and then possibly a haunted house film and then ultimately take it to someplace far more horrifying. Knowing that's how it would play out, we wanted to experiment with some of those genre conventions. In some cases, we played with tried and true conventions, which we felt would be experienced differently because of the continuous take."
Star Elizabeth Olsen agrees the inclusion of a continuous shot device adds an extra, hopefully invisible layer to the type of scares audiences are accustomed to and are achieved through editing. "It's a new way of creating those jumps, like, what you would get cutting to a door slamming, or seeing curtains over an open window blowing, or cutting to a girl screaming. We just don't use those editing devices and I find that exhilarating. I don't think people are going to pick up on the fact there are no cuts or that it's all just one take. People don't think twice about that, they're just into it. What's special is that this is a whole new way of storytelling."
"The real challenge is, how to tell a story, try to give the audience a unique, engrossing, emotional experience, without the usual filmmaking tools and techniques at your disposal," Kentis elaborates. "Pacing, how to reveal information, jumps in time, sculpting the nuances of a performance. All are usually achieved by shooting coverage and of course, through editing, but now, that's off the table. In a way, you have to think of a new cinematic language to communicate all of this." That said, the filmmakers also hope audience members overlook the fact the story unfolds in a continuous shot and will become absorbed by the plight of Olsen's character, Sarah. "We want to take them through this experience with the character, never getting a break, caring for every single second she's on screen," says Lau.
"It's not actually one shot, to achieve that effect we strung a series of complicated long takes together" Kentis clarifies, "it's interesting to me that some people would fixate on how many shots we did do. But the best compliment for me is to hear people who saw the film say they didn't even notice it was one shot or get distracted by that."
A location can make or break any film that utilizes a single setting. In some cases, a location can become its own character and take on its own certain fame -- take the PSYCHO house, for instance.
For Kentis and Lau, whose film was set entirely in and around a single location, their mission was two-fold: Find a home that would not only suit their atmospheric needs, as Sarah maneuvered her way through its darkest recesses, but also give them the adequate space they needed to turn the location into, as Kentis calls it, "our own little sound stage."
"It was not easy finding this location," Lau says. "We had to have high enough ceilings because the whole house had to be pre-lit from above. We had incredibly long takes and we were shooting 360 so there was no place to hide lights except from above."
Lau looked at floor plans of various homes for inspiration as she created an imaginary house in her head during the scripting process. What she envisioned was a two-story home, not an archetypal gothic, spooky castle. Location scouting proved to be difficult for the New York City-based Lau and Kentis, however, as they had a narrow selection of homes with the right character and high ceilings to choose from in their area.
"With no ability to cut, the geography of the house was absolutely critical," Lau says. "We were looking for quite a while and far outside of the city, like two hours out, and our production designer, Roshelle Berliner, remembered a house she had seen in New Rochelle, which is really close to the city. She talked to our location manager and they figured out, on Google maps, where this house was or close to where it was. We got to the location and it turned out it was not the house she had seen before, but there was one right next to it owned by the same owner. We couldn't believe our luck, it wound up being perfect, being available, and an unbelievably easy commute."
It was also a nice bonus that the house resided by the water. So, with the location locked into place, Lau began to rewrite her script based on the actual layout of the house, utilizing both the water and the home's three stories. The only problem Kentis and Lau could foresee was the house's surrounding buildings which needed to be blocked out to give the illusion the home was isolated. Greens and camouflage netting proved to be useful.
Kentis laughs, "The bigger issue was we were situated beneath one of LaGuardia Airport's main flight paths, so it was a matter of soundproofing the house. But we also had to preserve the exterior of the house because in some scenes, we were going inside and outside of the house in the same shot, so none of our soundproofing could be seen."
Technicalities aside, the house offered a clean canvas upon which production designer Berliner could work with. "The house is completely Roshelle Berliner's work," Lau says. "It was totally empty, the wallpaper and everything you see in that house we brought into it. We began with the premise that the house is not only the site of events past and present, but that the house actually is Sarah. The holes in the walls are the holes in Sarah's mind.
Kentis adds, "We wanted the different levels of the house to be distinct and each room to offer a different experience to reflect various aspects of Sarah which is also why we had a different lighting scheme for each floor."
"The film is Sarah's journey from things that have been suppressed and forgotten to her gradual awareness of what is going on," Lau continues, "so we wanted to work with that from the basement to the top floor, which we don't go to until the third act. We worked on finding ways to bring the structure and contents of Sarah's mind, especially her unconscious mind, out into the production design. We wanted the house with its different levels and rooms to function like the various compartments of Sarah's mind."
Elizabeth Olsen as "Sarah"
Elizabeth Olsen is often asked: What is the strangest thing you have ever done during an audition? A question she has never been able to answer. That is, until SILENT HOUSE came along.
"The audition was a very strange thing because there are very few dialogue-heavy scenes to use for an audition," the actress recalls. "One of the scenes I had to do was literally find a key, which was weird. They were scenes from a script that wasn't final. I think there was even a scene from the ending that had nothing to do with what we ended up filming. And I had to pretend I was running away from something behind the door. That was definitely funny, it's much like 'You're in a box, in a hole and you need to get out. Let's see that.'"
For the role of Sarah, Kentis and Lau needed someone who could push themselves to extraordinary levels of emotion and fear, but also maintain the strength to physically carry the audience along for the ride since Sarah is on screen nearly every minute of the film.
"We had a relationship with Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee, the casting directors, and we had been working with them on several projects," Lau says. "When SILENT HOUSE came up we turned to them. They had cast Jennifer Lawrence in WINTER'S BONE and when we brought them SILENT HOUSE they knew exactly who should fill the part. Lizzie came in and she was perfect."
Kentis says Olsen was the first actress to audition for Sarah, "She was perfect, but it seemed too easy", they felt they needed to do their due diligence and see other actresses. "And we did see other people, but Lizzie was always the person to beat."
Impressed by her maturity, charisma and depth, Kentis and Lau ultimately chose Olsen who was fresh off of shooting MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE and PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING. It was on the former film where Olsen heard of LA CASA MUDA.
"All of the guys working on MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE saw the original and said the first hour and fifteen minutes were the most terrifying thing they had seen," says Olsen. "I love horror movies, I like being scared, and I laugh my ass off, screaming and laughing as an audience member." One film she avoided, however, was Kentis and Lau's OPEN WATER. "I have a fear of the ocean - a really irrational fear and I have a huge fear of sharks that prevents me from going into the water, so I will not see it. I trust my older brother's opinion greatly because we have similar tastes. Knowing he loved it so much, I trusted him."
With a sibling's recommendation of OPEN WATER and trusted crew members endorsing LA CASA MUDA, Olsen looked at starring in an American remake of the latter as nothing but positive -- and similar to how Kentis and Lau felt -- a challenge. "To me, it was remaking a movie that has potential, but you make it better and make it stand on its own," says Olsen. "It reminds me of the French film THEM [aka ILS], where these strangers come into this couple's home and terrorize them. I think this film fits somewhere within that. It's not BLAIR WITCH-y, because the camera is so much smarter than that film. I personally don't like horror movies that are about slicing and dicing. I like feeling claustrophobic and that is where this one goes."
"She is rigorous," Kentis explains. "The effort she's put in to her craft -- she studied theater in Russia and for a movie like this with incredibly long takes, she had the ability to step up to the challenges. The camera loves her and if you have a movie where the camera is going to be on one protagonist for so long you want someone you're going to want to watch."
Lau continues, "The key was always Lizzie's performance. You have to believe and care about her and what she's going through."