Elizabeth Olsen on ‘Silent House’: “Because there was not much dialogue, the only arc to create was the journey of fear”
Though she gained rave reviews in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival release Martha Marcy May Marlene, Elizabeth Olsen also starred in another film that debuted at Sundance 2011, the horror film Silent House, which is finally being released this month.
Olsen stars as Sarah in the unique film, which not only plays in real-time and is rendered to appear to have been done in one continuous shot. Olsen speaks about why she decided to star in a horror film and what it was like shooting such a challenging movie.
Olsen was immediately interested in starring in the film because she’s a fan of horror movies. She explains, “I love horror movies, I like being scared, and I laugh my ass off, screaming and laughing as an audience member.”
However, Olsen is particular about the type of horror movies she enjoys, which her led her toward her role in the unconventional Silent House. She clarifies, “I personally don’t like horror movies that are about slicing and dicing. I like feeling claustrophobic and that is where this one goes.”
With the movie being shot in real-time, the filmmakers had to reinvent the way horror films are shot since they typically rely on editing. Olsen finds the experimental style fascinating, saying, “It’s a new way of creating those jumps, like, what you would get cutting to a door slamming, or seeing curtains over an open window blowing, or cutting to a girl screaming. We just don’t use those editing devices and I find that exhilarating. I don’t think people are going to pick up on the fact there are no cuts or that it’s all just one take. People don’t think twice about that, they’re just into it. What’s special is that this is a whole new way of storytelling.”
Silent House was a totally different experience for Olsen even from the first audition, which was more like a scavenger hunt than a traditional audition. Olsen recalls, “The audition was a very strange thing because there are very few dialogue-heavy scenes to use for an audition. One of the scenes I had to do was literally find a key, which was weird. They were scenes from a script that wasn’t final. I think there was even a scene from the ending that had nothing to do with what we ended up filming. And I had to pretend I was running away from something behind the door. That was definitely funny, it’s much like ‘You’re in a box, in a hole and you need to get out. Let’s see that.’”
Once the shooting began the process of filming a movie shot that only had thirteen cuts became difficult for everyone, but especially Olsen. She says, “The goal was always thirteen takes and we shot for 15 days and sometimes took two days to do one take or shot. We would run through the scene and be recording, but I felt I was learning as we went while giving 100% to every shot. But sometimes I just couldn’t do it anymore. I could not produce any more snot or fluids to run down my face. It was draining.”
Nonetheless Olsen, credits her “weird imagination” to get her back on task. She explains, “I play games with myself at the drop of a hat. That was beneficial. I started having weird nightmares that didn’t have much to do with the actual story of the script, but it had to do with a child’s sexual abuse by a parent at a weird age and that was really disturbing. It became everything my mind went through while we were shooting and it that was exhausting.”
Still, it was important for Olsen to convey the film’s horror without speaking since her character is not only alone for much of the film, but has little dialogue. She reveals, “What was difficult for me, the main goal the entire film, was to try and figure out how fear changes within an hour and half. Because there was not much dialogue, the only arc to create was the journey of fear. I didn’t want moments to repeat themselves. If you end up filming a scene that’s supposed to be emotional and difficult at the beginning of the shooting schedule and you’re doing it over and over, you look a little bit more tired than maybe you should for a scene at the beginning of the movie that you have to shoot later. It was difficult to carve that type of performance when you’re trying to do these actions for a very long period of time.”
Silent House opens in theaters on March 7.