A remake of the 2010 Uruguayan thriller, this is reportedly based on a true story. Shot as if it was filmed in a single continuous take, this claustrophobic horror film sends chills down our spines. But instead of deepening the story, the growing creepiness becomes an exercise in superficial horror: it's scary, but it's hard to care.
Sarah (Olsen) is working with her father John (Trese) and her uncle Peter (Stevens) to clean out a family-owned lake house that's been trashed by squatters. Sarah is clearly unnerved by the blacked-out windows, requiring the use of lanterns inside even during the daytime. Then she starts hearing loud noises upstairs. And when Peter is out getting supplies and her father is in the basement, she sees someone stalking her in the shadows. Soon she's running for her life. But even when she gets outside, she simply can't escape the house.
It's fairly clear early on that something metaphysical is going on here, so we begin to take what we're seeing with a grain of salt, waiting for some sort of twist or revelation. But this isn't the filmmakers' aim: they just want to freak out the audience, so they contrive scene after scene that jolts us out of our seats, mainly because of the clever close-up camerawork, which doesn't give our eyes any space to escape from Sarah's terrified face.
And indeed, Olsen creates a palpable sense of fear that's difficult to resist.
Even as we begin to understand why she's so frightened, the terror in her eyes is seriously horrific. And with the camera on her for the entire real-time fright-fest, we live every moment of her ordeal. The only relief comes through the offhanded naturalism of Trese and Stevens, while Ross (as Sarah's forgotten childhood friend) gets a few moments of camp eeriness.
It's fun to be so disoriented by a horror film that you start to feel that, like the main character, there might be something wrong with your ability to perceive what's actually going on. But while this approach to the narrative is inventive, the relentless rug-pulling will frustrate most moviegoers. If the script had provided a little more insight into the characters, the final act would have been much more wrenching.