Silent House should’ve stayed silent, October Baby is a big-screen soaper

by Mark Burger

Having made a splash (pun intended) with their 2004 debut film Open House, filmmakers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau return with another big-screen shocker, Silent House . If the eight-year wait between films seems inordinately long, judging by the results perhaps they should have waited longer.

This is the American remake of Gustavo Hernandez’ 2010 Argentinian chiller of the same name, and is yet another of those films purported to be “inspired by true events.” Like the earlier film, this Silent House is told in “real time” — about 90 minutes (which still feels too long) — and made to appear as if it was filmed in one long, continuous take. Yes, this is yet another of those films that’s all gimmick and no payoff. Yet the filmmakers (Lau also wrote the screenplay) seem to treat it as something truly original and novel. They are mistaken.

Elizabeth Olsen, who made such a strong impression in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, tries her best here as Sarah, who quickly becomes Scared Scared Sarah. She, along with Dad (Adam Trese) and Uncle Pete (Eric Sheffer Stevens) are cleaning out their moldy old house by the river, which is rapidly falling into a state of disrepair and has already been broken into a number of times. The power’s out (naturally), so there are a lot of dark corners where things can hide and shadowy doorways around which things can pop out for a quick (and cheap) scare.

It’s not long before Sarah begins hearing strange things. Then Sarah begins seeing strange things. And then’s Sarah’s in terror, a state she basically remains in for the rest of the film. There’s very much a mechanical tone to the proceedings, and even the most eager horror fan will likely find Silent House all too familiar.

By the time Dad comes tumbling out of the closet, repetition has set in. By the third or fourth time that Sarah hides under something (a bed, a table, etc.), it’s clear that the film is winding up for a Big Twist — one that can’t come too soon and shouldn’t be much of a surprise either to anyone who’s been paying even cursory attention, or to horror-film aficionados.

As faith-based films go, October Baby which opens Friday, refrains from preaching too heavily — which is all to the better.

So many of these films put agenda ahead of story, with story (and sometimes viewer) suffering as a result.

A modest tearjerker, October Baby would probably be more at home on the small screen. But it’s hardly the worst film of its kind, and has some positive attributes.

Rachel Hendrix, in an appealing screen debut, plays Hannah, an all-American teenager who learns in (very) quick succession, that she was adopted and that her health problems are the result of being born prematurely after an abortion attempt. Hannah is understandably devastated, and understandably angry that her parents (John Schneider and Jennifer Price) have withheld this information from her all these years. (Their reasons for doing so yield even more surprises for Hannah, further cementing the film’s soap-opera status.)

Determined to locate her birth mother in Mobile, Ala., Hannah joins a group of friends on a road trip to Mardi Gras, including Jason (Jason Burkey), the childhood chum who’s always loved her. Along the way, and amidst an overabundance of song montages in which most of the songs sound alike, Hannah comes to terms with her past and who she is.

Oddly enough, although her journey was spurred on by her ailments (asthma and epilepsy), Hannah looks the picture of health the rest of the film. Contrived? Corny? No question, but at least October Baby is sincerely played by its cast, which helps a lot.

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