Long before Elizabeth Olsen was casting spells with the Avengers and fixing multiverses with Doctor Strange, she was breaking into the acting scene and trying to escape the shadow that was being the younger sister of the much more famous Olsen twins.
One of her earliest breakout roles was 2012’s Silent House, a lesser known, low budget psychological thriller that’s not only an underrated gem. It also demonstrated Olsen’s range early on, and gave us all a preview of what she would be capable of in the MCU, a mere three years later. So in honor of its 10th anniversary, we wanted to take a look back at Silent House, and how it showed us the star that Elizabeth Olsen was always capable of being!
A remake of a 2010 Uruguayan film that followed the same plot/style, Co-director Chris Kentis was the one who referred to Silent House as “experimental”. In the style of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, the whole film is styled to look like one continuous shot from beginning to end (Birdman would do the same thing two years later in 2014).
And while it was shot in 10-15 minute segments with sneaky edits to look continuous, even that is genuinely impressive and very much fits the narrative of the story. Given that the movie’s focus is Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) experiencing a rather traumatic revelation that rocks her to her very core, the smooth and eerie vibe makes sense, and reinforces that it’s from her perspective.
Using minimalist everything (cast, locations, even lighting at times), Silent House relies on mood and style, but is never without substance. It’s not the kind of horror/thriller film that will jump out and scare you outright, but it’s subject matter and tone will definitely unsettle you, and that’s very much the point.
It almost feels like a stage play in its approach. In a lot of ways, it’s comparable to 2017’s Mother!, which also used the feature length one take style. But where that movie came off as a bit pretentious in its themes and ideas, Silent House is far more direct and simplistic, but all the more effective for it.
Uncomfortably Accurate (Spoilers Ahead)
As Sarah is terrorized by what she thinks are nefarious intruders, we discover that the only people in the house are her, her father, and her uncle. However, the terrors she’s experiencing are very much real in the form of past trauma.
After discovering old photographs of their disgusting deeds, Sarah is forced to confront the fact that her father and uncle sexually abused her as a child. For years, she had blocked it all out, but stumbling upon the old evidence triggers a flood of memories to come back.
From a psychological perspective, the film does a solid job of accurately portraying how a person with PTSD can experience flashbacks. Quite often the subject of them is an outside observer, watching the event play out as a spectator, rather than the flashback occurring solely from their POV.
For screenwriter and co-director Laura Lau, it was important that the film be respectful and accurate in its portrayal of PTSD and sexual abuse, while taking artistic and creative liberties with the style and method in which the story was told. She did a great deal of research into the psychological aspects and it shows.
Setting the Foundation
The real standout here, amidst a cast of only six, is of course Elizabeth Olsen. At the time of filming, she had shot another project, but had nothing released. And despite this being a lower budget indie horror film, it was a bit of a risk to cast her without the experience. But she impressed the producers with her audition and the rest is history.
Olsen reportedly immersed herself so much into the role (and its very heavy subject matter) that it gave her nightmares during filming. Her character goes through a myriad of emotions and grim realizations as the trauma of her past resurfaces. And she does a great job of emoting all of that, with the movie’s full attention on her for its entire runtime.
Interestingly, a lot of the same emotions and skills Olsen flexes here would later be on display in her tenure in the MCU. The way we see her deal with trauma and grief in this movie is an excellent precursor of the talent she would show a much wider audience in WandaVision.
In both media, she plays a character that deals with childhood trauma, which resurfaces years later and causes an existential crisis. Looking back at Silent House, it’s quite interesting to see the megastar that Olsen would become. It’s a testament to her status now, and a reminder that she’s always been that good.
What do you think of Silent House? What are some of your favorite “experimental” horror movies? Let us know in the comments!