Directors: Laura Lau, Chris Kentis
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross
The husband-and-wife directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau clearly love tormenting their actors. Their 2003 debut Open Water put their cast in the water and had them circled by real sharks. This time, it's the actress Elizabeth Olsen's turn to be tormented, albeit on dry land. A remake of the 2010 Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda by Gustavo Hernández, Silent House, like its predecessor, attempts to shoot the entire film in one continuous take. Forget the genre, the real horror must have been for poor Olsen, forced to retake and reset every time something invariably went wrong.
Other directors have tried this bravura technique. Most successful was Aleksandr Sokurov with his 2002 museum-set history lesson Russian Ark. Lau and Kentis' film is closer to Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, which sewed together several 10-minute takes to make them look like one seamless, uninterrupted shot. But what is impressive about Silent House is how the gimmick never overshadows the result. Rather, it only serves to bolster the claustrophobia in what is an increasingly unsettling story, one that puts its hands around your throat and starts to squeeze.
Olsen plays Sarah, a shy high-school grad who arrives with her father John (Adam Trese) at their family's rundown lakeside retreat to help renovate it before it is sold. A neat conceit sees to it that all the windows have been smashed by local kids and are boarded up. The electricity has been cut, too. So even in broad daylight it's dungeon-dark inside. With the furniture all but covered up in ghostly white sheets and the ageing house full of creaks, whistles and groans, it makes for a very creepy setting indeed.
Met by her uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens), Sarah and her father are soon left in the house on their own when their relative disappears. But as Sarah begins to hear noises, the unease truly sets in. Her father falls down the stairs and is knocked unconscious. An unidentified assailant then enters the house; Sarah, quivering under a table, evades him - just. Showing us her floor-eye view, it's one of the tensest scenes I've seen in the cinema all year.
Olsen, who made her breakthrough in the well-received Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene, proves here it was no one-off. The technical virtuosity of her performance, acting to a camera in uninterrupted takes, is impressive enough. But to do it at the intensity she does, for long periods and so often when she is the only performer on screen, is quite astonishing.
So where's the catch? Veering away from Hernández's original, the final third unravels quickly. This may be an independent but the Hollywood disease of rationalising events afflicts the final act with devastating effect. With a conclusion that puts this psychological film on the shrink's couch rather than allowing it to remain unexplained, it's a humdrum end to what was a very promising beginning and middle.
Gangs of Wasseypur 2
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Starring: Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Tigmanshu Dhulia
When the writer/director Anurag Kashyap originally conceived the idea for Gangs of Wasseypur, it was as a stand-alone film set over the past two decades. He then realised that this tale of revenge would be better served if audiences knew the backstory to his characters, and so the idea developed that Wasseypur would be a double bill. It's as if the nods to The Godfather were not already strong enough. The sequel showcases the attempts of Faizal Khan (Siddiqui) to avenge the death of his father and annihilate Ramadhir Singh (Dhulia). With all the exposition taken care of in Part 1, the less action-orientated second part benefits greatly from the additional space given for character development and plot.
* Kaleem Aftab
Just Crazy Enough
Director: Lance McDaniel
Starring: Chris Kattan
Chris Kattan plays dual roles in this film about twins unknowingly separated at birth - one living with privileged parents and the other raised in a mental hospital. A chance encounter means the pair experience life in the other's shoes. While it has a very familiar storyline, what this offbeat indie comedy lacks in surprises it makes up for in intelligence and a sincerity not often found in films of this nature. Kattan always seems more comfortable as the "wackier" twin, but holds his own in the more serious scenes. The director McDaniel keeps a tight hold of this likeable comedy, which makes the most of its leading man's strengths. Not a revelation but quirky enough to be enjoyable.
* James Luxford