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Silent House – Directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau find panic turns to terror

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Silent House - Adam Trese and Elizabeth Olsen
John (Adam Trese) and Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) © 2011 IFC Midnight

In 2003, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau made the movie Open Water, based on a true story of a couple on a diving excursion who are accidently left behind in shark infested waters. Striving for authenticity, they used real sharks in the production, not mechanical ones.

Looking for another challenge, Kentis and Lau have now remade the movie La Casa Muda, which has the appearance of being shot in one continuous take. The horror film stars Elizabeth Olsen as Sarah, who along with her father John (Adam Trese) becomes trapped in their isolated house by a lake at night, with only their flashlights to light their way, as panic turns to terror with every passing minute.

What was the process of writing this script?

Silent House - Directors, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Directors, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau © 2011 IFC Midnight

Laura: It was very challenging. One of the deficits about it was that I didn’t have a house. What I did was I looked at floor plans of houses that were typical in our area, and then I just choose a floor plan that I thought would be close to what we would actually get.

And then it was just a question of inhabiting Sarah’s experience and what would make sense of what would happen to her next.

Was the concept of the real time and no apparent camera cuts there from the beginning?

Chris: That was from the beginning. We were approached to do a remake of La Casa Muda, and when the producer of that picture asked if we were interested, we said, ‘What is it?’ She said, ‘It’s a single take film.’That put the hook to me right then and there.

We saw the movie and were impressed with it, but we also saw there was room to go into another direction and do our own interpretation.

That concept was really the thing [that excited me]. How often do you get a chance to have an audience experience something they’ve never experienced before. That’s unheard of today.

It also puts a burden on you to find the right actress as the camera is on her for practically every frame of the movie. Was it Elizabeth from the very beginning?

Silent House - Poster, Elizabeth Olsen
Poster featuring Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) © 2011 IFC Midnight

Laura: The casting directors had Elizabeth in mind from the very beginning and we met with her and we could see why they felt that she was really perfect, but we did audition a lot of other actresses.

Chris: Yeah, it was too easy. It’s an incredibly demanding role, how are you going to find anybody? Oh, here she is! But we thought, ‘We’ve got to see other people.’ But she was always the one to beat.

Laura: At that time she was really unknown, I didn’t know the Olsen twins (Mary Kate and Ashley) had a younger sister, and the films she had done were still posting so there was no tape, there was nothing.

There was just what we could catch on our audition tapes and what we knew about her training.

What we saw was this luminosity and this charisma, and I felt like I wanted to watch her.

We knew that this movie would be about one character who you would be with for the entire film, and it had to be somebody that you would really care about and that you would want to watch, and we felt that she had that quality.

The way the movie is filmed, you must have choreographed the entire picture before you started shooting. How long did that take?

Silent House - Adam Trese and Elizabeth Olsen
John (Adam Trese) and Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) © 2011 IFC Midnight

Chris: From the moment the script was done and we got the location, Laura and I went there and we practically lived [at the house] every single day.

Laura would play the character of Sarah, I’d be behind her with a camera, and we’d go through making sure it timed out, figuring out the choreography, and we would go home at night and type what we did into the script.

After weeks of doing that, we brought the crew on and our fantastic director of photography, Igor Martinovic. Of course he brought a whole other set of ideas to the table and we refined everything and then the talent came on.

It was all about preparation and rehearsal.

How long was the process of just the two of your going through the house?

Silent House - Elizabeth Olsen
Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) © 2011 IFC Midnight

Laura: I would say that we had about three weeks with the house, of which we had two weeks for ourselves, and a week with Igor.

Then we started rehearsal with the actors, not in the house for the first week, and then we did rehearsal in the house. Then we had fifteen days to shoot the film.

Usually with a horror film you reach a certain level of tension and then there is a release so the audience can sit back and take a breath. But you don’t do that, you keep mounting the tension. Is that going to be a challenge to the audience to stay with it?

Chris: It’s an interesting question. That was the design of the film and that was our hope. That’s what we wanted to do. We were hoping to give the audience a different kind of experience. I see this more as a thriller but I guess it’s also a horror film.

Laura: I think the continuous take in itself is really what builds the tension. It’s not like we even had to generate that. Not being able to cut works on your unconscious level, because you’re not able to get away from this character, and this character is trapped in terror and you are trapped with her.