The Sad, Real Horror Of Silent House – Director Laura Lau On What Makes Her Film Different

Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau are perhaps still best known for Open Water, the claustrophobic-meets-agoraphobic shark thriller that actually gave some of my friends cold-sweat nightmares. This weekend, their second feature opens across the UK. It’s Silent House, a remake of La Casa Muda, The Silent House, a Uruguyan film that I wrote about not even two years ago.

There are two big points being highlighted by the Silent House marketing: Elizabeth Olsen, of Martha Marcy May Marlene turns in another plaudit-winning performance; and that the film was shot in a single take.

But, actually, it wasn’t. Not at all. It’s actually comprised of several takes, sewn together in a way that create the impression of one, unbroken shot. But that’s a bit more subtle than how the marketing puts it, and indeed, how director Laura Lau would refer to the film, when I was speaking to her about it.

The film’s story, in a nutshell, is about the 88 minutes, presented in realtime, after a young woman and her father first step foot into their new home and… things start to happen. Things that result in a lot of death, suffering and pain.

The following are the spoiler-free portions of what Ms. Lau had to tell me. After the film has opened, and you’ve had a chance to see it, I’ll be back with a little more, skirting just a tiny bit with some of the film’s big secrets.

For now, though, here’s Laura Lau on making Silent House.

The Appearance Of A Single, Unbroken Shot

What I loved about doing it in one take and telling the story in real time is that we’re portraying the experience of this one character’s reality. It was about asking the audience to go on the journey with one character to experience what she’s experiencing and see what she’s seeing.

I do think that most people are not aware of it as a single take. Some might watch it for that reason, but films are always about character and story and the people who are watching the film technically are obviously not as involved in the film as we’d hope. I did an interview the other day with a reporter from The Independent who said that the he watched the whole movie and had no idea it was a whole take. It was only a week later when he was reading press on it that he realised.

And a lot of people who have seen the film have felt that way. Obviously, if you know it’s one take, and you’re really interested in the technical aspects you can watch it that way, but for us, it’s really not about the technical.

Maybe it’s a bit of a different cinemagoing experience because it’s one take. There’s something more intense about it because there’s no cutting, you can’t get away from the character, she’s trapped and you’re trapped with her. Maybe this provides a certain kind of intensity you wouldn’t feel in a film that cuts. Hopefully it’s not something you’re paying attention to.

Marketing The One-Take Aspect

In so much as the marketing is letting the audiences know that this might be a different cinemagoing experience, it’s all fine by us. Chris and I took some risks in making this movie and we hope some audiences might recognise it’s something different here.

Belonging To The Haunted House Genre

We all live in houses and, psychologically, the idea of the home is so essential to our wellbeing and who we are, and even unconsciously, we know that we can’t survive without a home, without a base. So the home, in some ways, is really an extension of our own self. It’s a place where we feel safe and vulnerable.

Real Horror And Real Pain

A challenge for all of us, including Lizzie [Olsen], was that we were working with a very serious subject matter and she really held the pain and the damage that this character had gone through, she had nightmares all through production and we used some of that material in the film.

I said that I wanted to make a real horror movie, a movie about real horror. It’s truly horrific. It’s not the same kind of horror you might see usually, and it is tricky in the sense that audiences might have certain expectations, but I’m hopeful that they might be open to thinking about the film after they finish seeing it. What was really important to us was bringing across the sense of terror that this character felt.

Silent House opens across the UK tomorrow, May 4th. It’s an upsetting film, and goes somewhere rather different to most “haunted house” horror stories.