Sarah (Olsen), her father John (Trese) and uncle Peter (Sheffer Stevens) meet to clear out a family seaside cottage before it is sold. When the family is assailed by a perhaps-ghostly menace, Sarah finds herself doubting her own senses as past crimes affect the present.
The 'high concept' of Gustavo Hernández’s Uruguayan horror movie La Casa Muda is that it unspools in an apparent uninterrupted take (a technique which is a lot easier with the more lightweight cameras in use since Alfred Hitchcock shot Rope in 1948), keeping its heroine centre screen throughout a real-time ordeal. This opens with an overhead view of Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) on a rocky beach — from a position which suggests that directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (of the shark thriller Open Water) would find it very difficult to follow the original film’s gambit and keep moving with her for the rest of the movie. Though that’s exactly what they then pull off, making this a literal shot-for-shot remake.
It seems Sarah is haunted by memories of the large, shadowed beach house which her practical father and slightly resentful uncle don’t share. Beyond the lack of electricity and the suggestive clutter in the house, ominous hints abound in the first act — a childhood friend (Julia Taylor Ross) Sarah plainly can’t remember drops by, and an odd little girl (Haley Murphy) is glimpsed in the background who might be a ghost, a memory or an annoying neighbour. As the sun goes down — the sunset reminds you how precise the shoot has to be to make use of natural light, though there are a few all-black moments when (as in Rope) sneaky cuts can be made — Sarah feels under attack, especially when she finds her father bleeding and helpless. The trick of the original, carried over here, is that the continuous shot means the hysterical heroine (Olsen, following her Martha Marcy May Marlene breakthrough, is excellent in a gruelling role) is on screen all the time. This establishing the sort of relationship between character and camera used in the ‘found footage’ horror movie, as in [●REC] or the well-remembered confessional bit of The Blair Witch Project, but that’s a sleight of hand since this ultimately plays a different game.
This Americanisation embroiders the effective original rather than changes it, downplaying a Gothic culty element of the back story in favour of plain old American horrible revelations (though the root cause of the trouble is slightly overfamiliar).
It works as a suspense-building scare machine, given heart and depth by Olsens performance though its still an effective exercise in misdirection rather than a strikingly original vision, and now its a remake of an effective exercise in misdirection.