I don’t know what compelled me to do so, but I took it upon myself to view three of 2012′s horror hopefuls this past weekend, possibly in a half-earnest attempt to see if the genre has any life left in it after many a rote found footage disaster continue to plague it. Among these titles were the laughably bad ATM, now available OnDemand and in theaters April 6th, Ti West’s consistently engaging The Innkeepers and one of this weekend’s newest and more ambitious theatrical offerings, Silent House, of which stars Elizabeth Olsen in another head-turning lead role.
While screenwriter Chris Sparling struck proverbial gold with 2010′s Buried, his attempt to essentially recapture lightning in a bottle falls hopelessly flat as his latest script for the David Brooks-helmed ATM is easily one of the most contemptible, consistently miserable things to have ever existed in the realm of contemporary horror. Focusing on three coworkers as an ill-fated late night trip to an ATM results in their involuntary entrapment at the hands of a hooded psychopath, the trio struggles to brave the below freezing temperatures and the trials and tribulations this faceless assailant continually subjects them to. In case you’re wondering, yes, a majority of the film does take place inside an ATM, and no, the particularly aggressive murderer has no apparent motive outside of a peculiar desire to meticulously create mock-ups of his heinous acts with the help of his trusty drafting table nestled safely inside his cozy little storage unit.
Sound dumb? That’s because it is. For just under ninety minutes, we as viewers are subjected to cringeworthy, unauthentic dialogue and offensively unfunny jabs at humor, a majority of which very obviously doesn’t help to elevate the proceedings above that of substandard schlock as these shallow twentysomethings succumb to every horror cliche in the book. While Sparling and director Brooks tried their best to craft a plausible scenario that’d provide for the least amount of stupidity on our protagonists’ part, everything is so forehead-slappingly forseeable that the already ludicrous scenario is rendered even sillier as the clock keeps ticking. From typical bouts of finger-pointing regarding who’s responsible for landing them in this predicament to MULTIPLE failed attempts at eluding their parka-wearing assailant, ATM is simply a monumental failure in the realm of the minimalistic, single-setting subgenre that Buried is in fact a very valuable part of. I’m not doubting that there isn’t a single depraved, moreover murderous psychopath out there plotting to trap you inside an ATM after midnight, but to illustrate the events via the technically unimpressive, laughably bad directorial debut from David Brooks isn’t the best way to go about it, to say the least.
Ti West seems determined to both rekindle horror fans’ hope for the genre and revamp it with his singular panache in creating above average, appealingly “old school” ghost stories. As funny as it is genuinely creepy, West’s second success following 2009′s The House of the Devil prides itself on maintaining an air of tension so thick that the film’s final moments will most likely leave you staring blankly at your television screen, mouth agape. Centering on two lone hotel employees, Claire and Luke, as the ailing and supposedly haunted building trudges through its last weekend before closing for good, the duo unashamedly provokes guests and spirits alike as increasingly supernatural occurrences begin to increase in frequency and intensity. Forgoing any and all omens as things slowly begin to spiral out control, Claire and Luke continue to poke and prod until the unthinkable happens.
For what’s it worth, The Innkeepers is quite easily the best, eerily authentic “ghost story” to come around in quite some time, keeping us on our toes as a traditional slow burn approach is woven masterfully into the consistently engaging proceedings. Cashing in on the recent ghost hunting fad littering the world of reality television, it’s refreshing to see West both poke fun at and illustrate the questionable reality behind paranormal investigations at our protagonists’ expense. It certainly tests one’s patience, but in remaining entertaining enough by way of its chilling atmosphere instead of cheesy jump scares and severed limbs, West’s simplistic take on a tale we’ve seen tackled a thousand times before is faithful to the genre’s humbler beginnings and moreover a refreshing change of pace.
Soon to be known as merely “that film,” more specifically the one that was shot entirely in one continuous take, Silent House‘s primary gimmick functions well enough while still allowing Elizabeth Olsen to stretch her legs a bit and further exude the burgeoning talent first shown throughout last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. Although the paper thin narrative isn’t anything to write home about; a home invasion thriller dressed in a (technically proficient) psychological horror flick’s clothing, the film’s presentation does wonders to rectify the more obvious faults brought about by shooting an entire film in less than an hour and a half. Tensions run rampant as Olsen’s Sarah endlessly fears for her life after finding her father battered and unconscious upstairs in their dilapidated fixer-upper of a vacation retreat, not once letting up as the happenings in and around the house become increasingly obscure.
Successfully mimicking Sarah’s dwindling mental state as the overwhelming nature of her and her father’s predicament inevitably takes its toll, Silent House begins to blur the line between fiction and reality with miraculous finesse despite how underwhelming the proceedings become entering its latter act. Everything culminates rather conventionally, which is partially upsetting given how familiar the narrative’s trajectory is in relation to how innovative and effective the film’s overall presentation is. All in all, Silent House is a slightly above average effort that bests more recent forays into similar territory by being ballsy enough to employ such a brash, visceral feel to coincide wonderfully with what the directors aimed to achieve from the get-go. Things could’ve been wrapped up more astutely, but at the end of the day, Kentis and Lau provide us with an original enough production that barely manages to overcome the flaws brought about by its mundane, undercooked latter act thanks to a dynamite central performance from Olsen.