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If not for the filmmakers deliberately sacrificing content for supposed
style, "Silent House" could have been an intelligent and disturbing
horror film -- perhaps even a classic. All the elements were in place:
creepy location, good actress, decent story with a few twists. But
regrettably, "Open Water" directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau's
decision to remake a low-budget 2010 Uruguayan film also includes its
main gimmick: filming the entire movie in one (supposedly) unbroken,
continuous take. And therein lies the problem.
This film, while ambitious on a technical level, demonstrates the
importance of building up needed character and story elements no matter
how innovative the camera work may be. In this picture, we know
virtually nothing about the main character -- where she comes from,
what she wants... how can we be expected to care or understand what
happens to her? How are we expected to comprehend complex story
revelations when half the time we can't even see the girl's face?
By emphasizing style over content, Kentis has sacrificed drama and
effective storytelling. Hitchcock fared better back in 1948 with his
experiment (some would say failed experiment) with extremely long
takes, "Rope." Generally agreed to be one of his lesser efforts,
Hitch's sole foray into real-time, single-location filmmaking worked to
an extent because his characters were so well-defined and the story
effectively constructed. Of course, he never made another film this way
again, and for good reason: 1. audiences generally don't care how a
film is made (filmmakers and critics do) and 2. the elimination of
editing means stripping a film of one of its most important and
Editing is what separates movies from theater. It's an essential
process that allows a filmmaker to creatively shape a story and actors'
performances. Miracles can be worked in the cutting room. Scenes that
don't work can be re-worked or removed. Performances can be
strengthened and improved. Pacing can be improved. Suspense can be
built. A director eliminating the editing phase of his film is like a
sculptor hacking off one of his hands. So what at first might seem like
a noble and innovative experiment in style is actually one of the most
foolish and damaging things a film director can possibly do. He may
believe he has achieved something significant and profound, but -- at
least in this case -- the storytelling suffers greatly, and the
audience pays the price: everything takes forever to happen. A slow,
mundane conversation, which could have been sped up in the cutting
room, now drones on forever. A walk to find a dead body, which should
have happened in mere seconds, now takes minutes as characters plod
about from room to room, being careful not to lose the cameraman
following behind them.
Interestingly, "Silent House" fails in all the ways "Open Water" (which
might have made a better one-take, real-time movie) succeeds. "Open
Water" may have looked like a home movie shot with a camcorder, but it
worked. It worked because we got to know the characters, we cared about
them. We wanted to find out if they would survive... and how they would
survive. With "Silent House," we don't know WHO the hell the girl is,
WHERE the hell she's come from, and WHAT the hell she wants! So
ultimately, we really don't give a damn. Why? The director was too busy
worrying about his complicated camera moves.
There may be a place for a real-time, single-shot film... but this
story and screenplay was unfortunately not it.
Sorry, Chris! I certainly don't mean to be unkind -- and I would
happily give your film ten stars if filmmaking was about all creative,
hand-held camera-work and precise focus-pulling. But last time I
checked, it wasn't.
That said, you are without question a talented and ambitious filmmaker,
and I consider "Open Water" one of the most frightening and bold
exercises in low-budget filmmaking EVER.
I wish you continued success, and eagerly anticipate your next
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