Silent House offers the latest dose of creepy dwellings, scary kids with straggly hair and empty rooms with lights that don’t work. This one stands out from the crowd as it apparently unfolds in just a single shot and stars up-and-comer Elizabeth Olsen.
Supernatural thrillers show no sign of losing their appeal. Paranormal Activity revealed how much dramatic mileage there is in a static camcorder, a dark corridor and a light that switches itself on and off. Not to mention alarmingly regular home invasions from a malevolent demon.
Now that the studios have once again got wise to the gritty, found-footage format, grainy exorcism movies trip over themselves to dominate the horror market. Images of possessed teenage girls screaming at their elders in gravelly demonic snarls have kick-started their own sub-genre. Nothing grips audiences quite like a supernatural experience that might-be-but-definitely-isn’t absolutely real and based on actual events.
Haunted houses seem to be infested with snarling, homicidal, demonic children with unquenchable blood lust. Presumably they bully into submission the more kindly spirits who want nothing more than to spend eternity making as many friends as possible and who take inspiration from Casper the Friendly Ghost.
The Studio Boss will need to have his own supernatural experience to convince him to move beyond the established formula. Perhaps he’ll be enjoying a weekend away from it all in his historic mansion in the Hamptons, only to find his nights are plagued by strange creaks and groans, banging windows and the sense that there’s an evil presence lurking in the shadows.
Fetching a glass of water one night Studio Boss will come face-to-face with a ghost sitting at the kitchen table quietly reading a book. He doesn’t look particularly evil – dressed in a tunic and breeches with a very pale complexion and goatee beard – and Studio Boss has to grab his attention with a loud throat-clear and an angry rant about haunting.
The ghost, embarrassed at being seen in the first place, sighs deeply and shakes his head: “It never ceases to amaze me how ghosts always end up getting the blame for everything! A gust of wind blows through the attic and nobody ever stops to think maybe it was the window they forgot to close before they went to bed. Oh, no! It must be the ghost of the guy who was killed in a crossbow accident in 1770!
“Newsflash! The pipes creak because the copper expands and contracts with the temperature changes over a given 24-hour period. The window downstairs bangs sometimes because the latch isn’t screwed in properly so it’s just waiting for a strong gust of wind. The ‘howl’ in the attic? It’s a draughty roof! The building’s old! I can amaze you with science all night long! I saw the tail end of the Enlightenment!
“Maybe there’s some seven-year-old ghost boy running around at night slamming doors, but I died at 36. I’m the ghost who sits quietly at the table reading The Bourne Identity, neither angry nor mean but definitely dead. Haunting comes in many forms, my friend, and not all of it involves playing with Ouija boards and making groaning noises – although those are more exciting and cinematic than my nightly antics. I might have yawned loudly the other night when I was reading The Da Vinci Code.”
Studio Boss stares at the ghost, trying to work out how he can turn this supernatural encounter into a lucrative franchise. The ‘Based on true events’ tag line will work just fine, but at the moment the whole thing is a little too unconventional to find a broad audience.
He puts in a quick call to one of his top insomniac screenwriters, asking what he thinks about a kindly, but irritated and faintly postmodern ghost who opts to bury himself in pulpy airport novels rather than drag people from their beds into the depths of hell. No exorcisms, no scary levitations, no gravelly demonic voices and all the light fixtures are working just fine. Sounds like a bad sitcom, the screenwriter suggests.
Studio Boss stares once again at the ghost, who still looks embarrassed. “You’re very disappointing,” Studio Boss laments: “Where’s the fun in a ghost who just sits there and looks at books? Imagine how dull The Exorcist would have been if it turned out the demon was just irritated he couldn’t find a quiet reading spot? Or the spirit in Paranormal Activity had actually seen the error of its ways, admitted its stunning selfishness and offered a humble and softly-spoken apology. Try harder, okay? I’ll get some writers over in the next few days and we’ll see what we can put together. It’ll be something more mainstream than this weird set-up, obviously.”
Shaking his head, the Studio Boss pads gently back up the stairs to his bed. The ghost watches in silence and bursts into tears.