Third act plot twists are a funny thing. They can either completely alter everything you’ve just watched in a manner that’s both satisfying and thought-provoking or, alternatively, systematically destroy the entire experience. Anyone who’s watched an M. Night Shyamalan can testify to the effectiveness of this gimmick, for better or worse. Some directors know precisely how to use it, while others simply employ the device because they think that’s what modern-day movie-goers expect from their post-”Sixth Sense” horror/thrillers. I’m not opposed to such tactics when it fits the style of the movie, but when the twist comes out of absolutely nowhere in a film that doesn’t necessarily require this sort of last-minute revelation, it immediately pulls me out of the movie.
Such is the case with director Gustavo Hernández’s “The Silent House”, a film presented in one long continuous shot. I was on-board with the entire picture, plot holes and all, until that head-scratching twist burst from out of nowhere. After that point, I really didn’t want to finish the flick. I felt cheated, robbed, and, more importantly, angry, the latter of which manifested after I took a few minutes to chew everything over. Did “The Silent House” really require such a cheap gimmick? Was this tactic employed simply to explain a few gaps in logic that arose over the course of the picture? Honestly, I’m beginning to think so. Given that the main character’s motivations frequently make no sense whatsoever, I feel that Hernández may have painted himself into a corner. With nowhere left to go, he fell back on the twist, which provided him with the much-needed emergency exit required to end the film with the loose ends tied up. Not quite.
Florencia Colucci stars as Laura, a young woman who accompanies her father on an expedition to spruce up a small house situated in the middle of nowhere. Since night is falling and dad is a little bushed, the pair decide to stay the evening inside this creepy old abode, which, I should add, is without any means of electricity. As you well know, that’s never a good sign. Before too long, some seriously eerie events begin to unfold, starting with some strange sounds coming from the second floor of the house. At Laura’s insistence, her father ventures upstairs to see what’s up, setting of a chain of increasingly intense events involving an unknown assailant and our lantern-wielding heroine. As the night progresses, Laura finds herself in a number of precarious situations, though it’s not entirely clear if her enemy is alive, dead, or somewhere in-between.
For all intents and purposes, the set up works pretty well. Much to my surprise, Hernández handles the continuous shot a lot better than I thought he would. Not that I have anything against the man as a director, mind you, but my previous exposure to “one shot” cinema has been somewhat dodgy, “Russian Ark” notwithstanding. What surprised me the most about “The Silent House” was the cinematography; the camera moves in such a way that you often forget you’re watching a movie that was executed in one long take, which, I must say, is impressive in and of itself. Hernández also uses the lack of electricity to his advantage, allowing for some truly unnerving moments early on. Of course, watching Laura wander aimlessly around the house does get a little tiresome, especially since the building in question isn’t exactly a sprawling estate loaded with a wide variety different rooms and secret passageways. Technically speaking, the film is spot-on.
And then you have that twist. Truth be told, I was dumbfounded by this sudden revealtion, so much so that I found myself stumbling completely out of the experience. Instead of enjoying the moment and rolling with the punches, I immediately started backtracking, trying in vain to piece everything together. I hesitate to extrapolate further, as I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for those of you who are anxiously awaiting its release. However, I will say that I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many feel this wonky conclusion is, in fact, a very clever and highly intelligent finale to one of the most atmospheric genre flicks to come down the pipeline in quite some time. And I understand that. I really do. But that’s the tricky thing about plot twists: some people are going to love it, and some are going to hate it. Unfortunately, I can’t get behind this one.
At the end of the day, “The Silent House” is a disappointment. An impressive disappointment, mind you, but a disappointment nonetheless. All of the film’s problems can be traced back to that god-forsaken twist, and while I shouldn’t judge the entire film on one isolated incident, I’m having a hard time recommending it. What can I say — I’m a stickler for endings. Sadly, that last minute revelation, that one fumble in an otherwise flawless game, ultimately derails the whole experience. Like I said before, I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me on this, and I’m ready to take the heat. Gustavo Hernández certainly has a talent for atmosphere, and I’m excited to see what he tackles next. Here’s hoping it’s something a bit more straightforward and a lot more focused.
Gustavo Hernández (director) / Oscar Estévez (screenplay)
CAST: Florencia Colucci … Laura
Abel Tripaldi … Néstor
Gustavo Alonso … Wilson
María Salazar … Niña