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John Allman

If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at the video store or surfed the DVR pay-per-view options and seen a bunch of movies that you’ve never heard of, chances are John has watched them. Why? He loves movies. All kinds of movies. Good, bad, so-bad-they’re good, even the truly unwatchable ones. He mostly loves horror and science-fiction and drive-in exploitation movies that most upstanding model citizens wouldn’t dare watch. Then he writes up his thoughts so you can decide - watch, don’t watch or avoid at all costs. Sometimes he even gets to talk to the cool folks who make some of your favorite films.

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New Releases for Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Posted Jul 31, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Jul 31, 2012 at 08:58 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Silent House
Genre: Remake/Thriller
Directed by: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Run time: 86 minutes
Rating: R
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: When “La Casa Muda,” the ‘based on a true story’ thriller from Uruguay, was originally released in America as “The Silent House,” much was made of the movie’s major hook – that it was shot in one single, continuous take.

The hook worked, pulling fans across genres to check it out. The story, while muddled, especially during the busy and not crystal clear third act, effectively generated jump scares while maintaining the central trick of not breaking frame. That likely wasn’t too difficult, given the film essentially features three actors, and for the majority of its runtime, only one is on camera.

“Silent House,” the American remake, has one thing going forit – the white-hot Elizabeth Olsen, who just keeps getting better with each new role.

I’ve seen several reviews praising writer/directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, the duo responsible for “Open Water,” the love it or loathe it, stranded in the ocean with a shark, thriller from several years ago.

But honestly, I don’t understand the praise.

While Kentis and Lau kept the original’s single-shot format(which I liked), they unfortunately chose to do everything possible to ensure that the story is as transparent as possible. It’s a classic example of an American remake dumbing down the material because the filmmakers don’t trust that U.S. fans will get what’s going on.

I counted multiple give-away shots throughout the first half hour that are so blatant they basically club you over the head with a “Look! What’s that? Why is he hiding those polaroid pictures?” neon sign.

“La Casa Muda” worked so well because you really had no idea what the hell was going on until the big reveal in the last 15 minutes.

For those not in the know, the story is pretty simple: Father and daughter arrive at an abandoned family property to clean up the house and pack up the belongings before it’s sold.

They speak briefly to the father’s brother, who leaves. The house has no electricity and the family must use lanterns to move from room to room. When night falls, the daughter hears something upstairs. The dad investigates. A loud crash is heard. And fromt here, well, that’s where the scares come in. Is someone or something in the house with them? I’ll never tell.

“Silent House” moves too quickly to truly establish the necessary sense of foreboding. The back and forth between Olsen’s on-screen father and uncle is expanded from the original, which isn’t bad, but it definitely hints at something rotten within the family dynamic. Kentis and Lau also expand the screen time of a former family friend, a young woman who stops by to see Olsen. Again, Kentis and Lau can’t help but drop just enough hints to make you question the young woman’s purpose.

As soon as father and daughter are alone in the house, the creepy noises, creaking doors and shadowy, ominous corridors take center stage. Olsen is fantastic at communicating abject terror through her facial expressions. She lithely moves through the house, never going so fast so the single camera can keep up, and Kentis, for his part, does a masterful job of swirling around her, ducking and dodging and swooping in with the lens.

The problem, again, is the story, which just doesn’t translate effectively in the U.S. version.

In the original, there was a slow-burn to the reveal, a room filled with horrifying images that finally brings all the puzzle pieces together. In “Silent House,” there is no ‘room.’ There is no slow burn. There’s a bunch of running around, a lot of shrieking, a waste of a supporting character who may or may not be real. There’s just no fixed point to navigate toward.

Even the ending, tweaked from the original, doesn’t work as well.

Much like “Open Water,” a lot of “Silent House” feels like you’re stranded in the ocean, bobbing up and down, hoping against hope that someone will happen by to scoop you up and save you.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Elizabeth Olsen, hot or not? Hotter than her sisters, by far.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Minimal blood.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Not who or what you think.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Audio commentary with writer/directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau.

The Monitor (Lionsgate, 96 minutes, R, DVD): What a difference 60 minutes can make.

It’s long enough to seem interminable when you’re stuck watching a total stinker of a movie. But it’s also just long enough for a movie with promise to flame out and suddenly plummet from mysteriously intriguing to balls-out ridiculous to what the hell did I just endure?

Such is the case with the Norwegian thriller “The Monitor,” starring Noomi Rapace.

Originally titled “babycall,” which is about as awful a title as “The Monitor,” the film has no idea what it wants to be.

Is it a drama about abusive relationships or the apparently shocking child protective services system in Norway? Is it a paranormal chiller about an overprotective mother intercepting phantom transmissions on a portable baby monitor that she buys to keep track of her own child? Is it a murder mystery where Rapace has to try to stop another child from being abused and killed?

You’ll have to suffer through 96 minutes of uneven hokum to find out the answer, and let me just be the one to tell you – the destination is not worth the journey.

If I had stopped watching at the 30 minutes mark, this review would have been completely different. Early on, Rapace gives a compelling, believable portrayal of a distraught mother doing everything possible to protect her son despite the obvious toll her actions are taking on her own well-being.

Then the whole thing just goes to hell. People begin acting erratically for no reason. New characters pop up with no explanation, making cryptic statements that make no sense.
Established characters vanish. Subplots are introduced and abandoned. And poor Rapace just gets stuck, much like she did in “Prometheus,” wasting a committed performance on a silly premise that never takes shape. 

Worst of all, by the end, you question everything you’ve seen. What was real? What wasn’t? Unlike a movie like “Inception,” which exists to prompt such discussions long after the credits roll, there’s no making sense of “The Monitor,” and that is just plain bad.

Brake (MPI, 92 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): “Brake” wants to be “Buried,” but it ends up a muddled TV mash-up of “24” and “The Twilight Zone.”

“Brake” tells the tale of the worst day in the life of U.S. Secret Service Agent Jeremy Reins (played by Stephen Dorff).

He wakes up locked in a clear plastic box in the trunk of a car, and there he spends the next 80-some minutes, trying desperately to save his estranged wife, avert a terrorist takeover of Washington, D.C. and prevent the insurgents from learning the location of the secret underground bunker where the POTUS and other elected leaders are taken during times of domestic assault.

Early on, director Gabe Torres does a good job of keeping the action taunt despite the cramped confines. And certain scenes in “Brake” effectively convey the necessary frustration and tension that Reins is experiencing. Watching, you can’t help but put yourself in the situation, and just the thought is enough to inch you out further to the edge of the couch.

Where “Brake” goes wrong is in the inevitable twist, and the leap of faith and logic is just too great for most viewers to take. It’s an interesting premise, for sure, and in the hands of a different director, with some minor tweaks to the script, “Brake” might have been a really fun thrill ride.

But as is, even for a genre flick with high aspirations, the sum is considerably less than its parts.

Also Available:

Meeting Evil – Samuel L. Jackson continues his push to star in more movies than any other living actor. Luke Wilson, well, he’s just happy to have a job.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Complete First Season – On Blu-Ray, for the first time. Trekkies rejoice!

Hey Arnold: Season 2, Part 2

Jiro Dreams of Sushi – It’s a documentary about sushi, but really, it touches so much more.

Footnote

My Way

Treasure Island

The Untouchables: The Complete Fourth Season, Volumes 1 and 2

Touched by An Angel: Season Five

Children’s Hospital: Season Three – Funny and more twisted than any comedy or medical procedural on network TV.

The Deep Blue Sea

Boss: The Complete First Season

On the Inside

Bonanza: The Complete Third Season

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