On the cinematically positive side you’ve got the immersion that one single unbroken take can provide. It’s like real life if real life involved a lot of heavily choreographed movements, intricate steadycam shots, accommodating set designs and a load of stickers on the floor to tell you where to stand. One long unbroken shot can really elevate a scene from a simple exercise in film making into something dramatically interesting and technically astounding at the same time. Anyone who’s ever watched Children of Men with any sort of focus would surely attest to the sheer mind melting awesomeness of its (admittedly digitally stitched together) indulgences.
However as my obvious allusions to the practicalities of long takes in the last paragraph may show, the other side of our tortuously metaphorical sword is the sharp edge of technical gimmickry. Cleaving budgets, production schedules and the feasible suspension of disbelief from films and audiences for years, your meticulously planned scene can end up looking like an impressive technical exercise in self-indulgence. Think of it like directorial masturbation for an audience that just can’t seem to stay emotionally involved in the drama whilst there’s a man just off screen rubbing himself up against the fourth wall.
Onanism aside I’m a massive long take fan. Even if they do end up being entirely noticeable in a distracting sort of way, sitting there wondering how long things can keep on going is often more exciting than the what’s actually going on (unless of course we’re talking the Children of Men car scene – have I mentioned how god damn freaking awesome it is?). Technical exercise or not, a solid long take equals spectacle and often an adherence to the mechanics of film making that as a film geek I’m more than willing to get wrapped up in. So then lucky for me Chris Kentis and Laura Lau have only gone and made a film entirely comprised of one seemingly unbroken (although allegedly cut together) shot.
A remake of Uraguayan horror La Casa Muda, Silent House stars Sundance darling Elizabeth Olson as she seeks to cement her rising star after a blistering performance in Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene. Plot wise we’re being offered up a bit of the usual:
Sarah is a young woman who finds herself sealed inside her family’s secluded lake house. With no contact to the outside world, and no way out, panic turns to terror to terror as events become increasingly ominous in and around the house.
But it’s the unusual on display here that is reportedly saving the day. The newly released trailer really pushes the ‘real time’ aspect of the film as it hopefully claws it’s way to a theatrical release and you can’t really blame them. Whether or not Silent House is any good isn’t really the point when it comes to marketing it. It’s all about the mechanics of the process and whilst that’s fine by me, does everybody else get as excited as I do when things happen on screen for a long time without any discernable break in shot? Who knows? Maybe have a look for yourself in the promising but disappointingly conventional trailer: