Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 in Film: Silent House

Silent House is certainly a horror film through and through, right down to its embarrassing psychologizing explanation at the end. At the same time, though, it presents itself in a way that begs for a reading against the usual modes of valuing a film, so I totally fell into its trap.

The film, shot in such a way as to convey the sense that it is in "real time," is at least as much a riff on Russian Ark as it is on Paranormal Activity, even if the technical achievement is really just a fabrication. And instead of the awesome technical spectacle that Russian Ark provides, we have what is more or less High Tension with less Halloween worship and more formal spectacle. Elizabeth Olsen's acting is pretty fantastic -- and I say this as someone who has no capacity to judge acting ability whatsoever, in addition to having terrible taste & not being able to recommend things to save my life -- but overall, to say the movie drags is sort of a terrible understatement.

But then, there is that one sequence. And god, is it good. When the genre busts right the fuck out of the editorial constraints and stains the walls and the camera and everything, for just a couple minutes, is a delirium of bleeding structures and visually unlocked trauma and just a giant fuck you to the rule-obsessed cretins who appoint themselves gatekeepers of genre.

Unfortunately, it then slinks back, asking their permission for inclusion, with a finale that is well done, for what it is, but betrays the possibility of that sequence in favor of The Motivating Power of Past Rapes and the safe Strong Female Character. Hooray.

What I think is worth preserving about this movie is the way that for it to work requires a mode of reading that is both counterfactual and past-tense; there is not really any critical attempt, at least that I am aware of, that tries to make sense of what having seen a movie achieves, as opposed to actively seeing or going to (in the future) see, barring the way that they pile up on one another in lists of influence. Because of the way the film presents itself as being in a sort of covert dialogue with other films -- the decision to "hide" the cuts cannot possibly be seen outside of the cultural dialogue which would have you believe that movies like Transformers, with their rapid-fire editing (allegedly; I haven't actually seen any of those either) are the latest and truest manifestation of the Death of Cinema -- in conjunction with how, well, boring this film itself really is, for the large majority of its running time, encourages a sense of the film as a thing that had been watched, as opposed to a Viewing Experience. Thematically, that this film's narrative is structured around trauma and how its intrasubjective shattering plays out then makes at least a little more sense, even if it isn't especially well handled. It is basically psychoanalytic in this sense, figuring trauma as not so much an event as a locus, a post ex facto origin story which collapses both development and motivation into a singular symbolic inscription, and which will be symbolically reenacted until the individual makes an appointment to sit on the Magical Ahistorical Couch to work it out from the stranglehold of the Imaginary into the Symbolic & thus be able to sort of purge it.

Uhm, anyway. All these things combined seem to me to suggest, again, that where the film works is not so much in its experience as in how it lingers, and what about it does. So the fact that I now think, however many months later, about that fantastical sequence in terms that don't rely whatsoever on the way it works in relation to the whole, where whole is generally understood as the experiential aspect of the formal, leaves me with the sense that there is something lingeringly worthwhile about the film, even if it isn't good in the way we tend to value these things.

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