Film: The Silent House
UK Release date: 1st August 2011
Running time: 86 mins
Director: Gustavo Hernandez
Starring: Florencia Colucci, Abel Tripaldi, Gustavo Alonso, Maria Salazar
Reviewer: Daryl Wing
Despite an editor being credited, many still believe The Silent House (La Casa Muda) was filmed in one continuous, relentless shot and inspired by true events. Whether or not either of these myths is true, first-time director Gustavo Hernandez’s movie has already impressed Hollywood with a remake soon to be released starring Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the Olsen twins. Therefore, it already stands to reason that you’re better off watching the original, even if it’s frightfully dire. For peace of mind, however, is it actually any good?
Laura and her father have promised to clean an old friend's property in order for it to be sold. Travelling deep into the hostile, unforgiving landscape of rural Uruguay, they are to spend the night in an isolated, run down cottage in order to get an early start on it the next morning.
With no civilization for hundreds of miles, no electricity or modern conveniences within the property and darkness long since descended, Laura forces her father to investigate a strange noise from the floor above.
When he doesn't return after what sounds like a sinister scuffle, Laura has nothing but fear to console her. She knows she’s not alone and her father is either in trouble, or dead. Fearing something is waiting in the shadows, she arms herself and searches for answers…
Gustavo Hernandez is clearly a man who storyboards every shot. This stands to reason if you want to fool the audience into thinking your movie was shot in one singular take – planning is essential. And although the results may be too airtight for some tastes, too constructed, too precise, it fits his slow-build storytelling like a glove - even if the first fifteen minutes are as dull as dishwater. We basically follow Laura and her father around as if we’re the third member of their restoration crew, the camera lingering a second too long all too often, too early in the film to tease us but doing it regardless, with each and every attempt passing by with little fuss.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – lesser people, like Michael Bay for instance, would jump at the chance to jolt the audience, delivering a cheap chill offering a momentary thrill. Hernandez refuses time and time again. He certainly knows the tricks of the trade – his camera movement slow and tentative, especially when one of horror’s favourite weapons, the mirror, is ominously sitting in shot. Brilliantly composed, the audience is treated to some frightening foreplay, misdirecting us and making the film all the more chilling for it.
The Silent House turns out to be a primarily petrifying experience. With action limited mainly to the house, we see what Laura sees, and then, thanks to some quirky flourishes, we are surprised to see her again, from another dizzying angle, or we see more, what she doesn’t see, what we don’t want to see, even if there’s nothing there at all. Then there’s the excellent use of sound. Distant thumps and clatters, footsteps, an anxious gasp for breath – it’s all here – and although most reek of standard horror clichés, Hernandez has already offered enough to warrant the stay of you and your fraught failings to accept it’s only a movie.
It’s a shame, then, that Laura (a far from savvy Florencia Colucci) reenters the house after finally finding a way out. Although the twist-ending justifies her decision to do so, and also allows Hernandez to scare the life out of his audience with one of the most truly terrifying scenes in recent memory (the Polaroid camera moment is downright spine-chilling), it stretches the credibility it had mastered and murders all the good that came before it. Clichéd for sure, but the opening two acts were tense and gripping, whereas the final one is ruined by the director trying to tie its few loose ends up rather than use them to whip up some more compulsive terror.
The end result is therefore a huge disappointment, and leaves you questioning the pointlessness of all that came before it – the Fight Club of modern horror, if you will. Some movies don’t need to be clever, and they certainly don’t need to follow the Shyamalan methods of storytelling, relying on final acts to neatly resolve every question raised. The Silent House was working perfectly well by echoing Shyamalan’s slow-paced direction, but similar to aliens that don’t like water, or death by daffodils, the ridiculous conclusion dished up here makes little sense and turns the film not on its head, but on its backside.
Although the story was conceived by Hernandez, the screenplay was actually written by Oscar Estevez (his first and maybe last screenplay), so we’ll thankfully be seeing a lot more from this promising director, only next time with a meatier story to work with. And despite a massive setback, the loudest horror film with silent in the title is still worth a look, mainly because the plot is outgunned by disorienting close-ups, scenes that will keep you on tenterhooks and an assured visual style (if you dare to look) that will haunt most that see it.
Worth watching for one hair-raising scene alone, The Silent House is anything but. With its dark, brooding atmosphere and an uneasy aura that lingers in every corner of its frame, it will leave you breathless, right up until its hugely disappointing climax - foolishly daring to question all the tense yet clichéd action that came before it.