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Originally published Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 12:05 AM

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Movie review

'Silent House': Terror in the darkness, in real time

A movie review of "Silent House," a "girl in jeopardy" thriller set in a family's creaky old lake house that they're about to sell. Elizabeth Olsen stars.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Movie review 3 stars

'Silent House,' with Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens. Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, from a screenplay by Lau, based on the Argentine film by Gustavo Hernandez. 86 minutes. Rated R for disturbing violent content and terror. Several theaters.

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A horror movie that works cuts through analysis, shrugs off opinions and snobbery, and eschews complexity — either in technique or in budget. You know it works when the hairs on the back of your neck rise. It's a visceral reaction you can't control. You know it works when others in the audience — as if moved by the spirit — talk back to the screen.

"Silent House" was finished as Elizabeth Olsen was revealing herself as the Olsen sibling with big-screen charisma. The "Martha Marcy May Marlene" star and film-festival darling is the "girl in jeopardy" in this "girl in jeopardy" thriller, set in a family's creaky old lake house that they're about to sell.

That's really all that's necessary — a girl, suddenly alone in a dark house in the middle of nowhere. Dad (Adam Trese) was there. But he went upstairs to check out a noise and disappeared. Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) took off with the only car. There's no power, no phone. And someone, or something, is plainly in the house with her.

Co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, remaking an Argentine film based on an Uruguayan story, establish that it's still light outside in the real-time terror that unfolds around Sarah (Olsen). But inside the boarded-up house, it's dark. Lanterns and flashlights illuminate the spooky rooms. The filmmakers spent too much money on a fancy opening crane shot, and too little on the jittery but often effective handheld photography that is standard practice in horror since "The Blair Witch Project." The field of vision is limited to what Sarah can see right in front of her. Music and sound effects are used sparingly. Sarah's screams are kept to a minimum.

The filmmakers test the patience of the "Don't GO in there" crowd by making Sarah mostly passive and her actions seemingly illogical. And the movie's third act strips away its mysteries, much to its detriment.

But those aren't fatal failings for a movie whose terror can be read in every silent scream on Olsen's gorgeous face, served up in more extreme close-ups than you can count.

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