One obvious comparison to "Silent House," starring Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman trapped in a maze of horror, is Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 classic "Rope." Not because of the themes (which differ) or the quality (ditto), but because both films are presented as a single shot with no apparent edits -- an audacious and difficult stunt.
Based on the Uruguayan horror film "La Casa Muda" (also a single-take novelty), "Silent House" does indeed look like a seamless, real-time, 88-minute movie, though directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau ("Open Water") apparently refilmed the final 15 minutes after an initial premiere at last year's Sundance Film Festival. If there's a splice in there anywhere, it's to the filmmakers' credit that you won't spot one, even as the movie builds toward its complicated, bloody finale.
By necessity, perhaps, the cast is small: Olsen plays Sarah, a college-age girl helping her father, John (Adam Trese), fix up her childhood home for sale. Uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) also lends a hand. First comes a bump, then a crash -- and daddy has vanished. Intruders? Ghosts? During its first act, at least, "Silent House" keeps you guessing and works up an effective sense of dread.
There's a twist, but Lau's screenplay telegraphs it too early and the story dissolves into a melodrama that not even Olsen (so compelling in last year's "Martha Marcy Mae Marlene") can make convincing. The creeping presence of horror-flick hokum not only robs the scares of their strength, it shatters the realism that the single-take format is trying to convey.
"Silent House" remains an impressive logistical ballet, making good use of today's lightweight cameras and endless digital storage capacity. Hitchcock, who created "Rope" with 10-minute film cartridges and quarter-ton Technicolor cameras, probably would have been jealous, if not terribly impressed.
PLOT A young woman is terrorized in her childhood home. RATING R (violence, language, sexual themes)
CAST Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE You'll spend more time marveling at the single-take gimmick than stifling screams in this semi-effective horror-flick.