Real life Uruguayan horror “The Silent House” (“La Casa Muda”) from director Gustavo Hernández has caused a considerable stir on the international festival circuit over the last year, having played at Cannes 2010 and other prestigious events as well as the usual genre shows. Benefitting from strong word of mouth, the film even has a US remake under the belt, the upside of which is that the original is finally getting a more general release. Aside from its country of origin, with Uruguayan outings being somewhat thin on the ground, the low budget chiller is notable for playing out in real time in a single shot, a bold move in the manner of Hitchcock’s classic “Rope”, even more of a challenge here given the need for special effects and scares.
The film is based upon actual events in Uruguay from the 1940s, and follows a young woman called Laura (actress Florencia Colucci), who travels to a remote, rundown house in the country with her father (Gustavo Alonso) to fix it up for sale. Despite there being no electricity they decide to spend the night on the premises, and the evening passes peaceably enough until she hears a strange noise from upstairs. Her father goes to investigate, only to reappear soon after, bloodied and bound, signalling the beginning of a terrifying ordeal for Laura as she tries to survive the malevolent forces lurking in the house.
To get to the good news first, on a technical level “The Silent House” is mightily impressive, much more so than the vast majority of its peers, including the likes of “Paranormal Activity”. Hernández’ direction is accomplished and the cinematography is excellent, with the one shot gimmick working very well to make the film a fluid, real time experience that benefits from a genuine sense of urgency. The house set is played for maximum atmosphere, and the film is relentlessly creepy and ominous, with a good number of frights and scares that are worked into the plot in naturalistic fashion rather than being cheaply telegraphed in the way of most Hollywood genre fare. Hernández even throws in a few splatterings of gore and unpleasantness here and there, heightening the sense of danger and adding a visceral terror that sits well with its grounded, low budget look. Clocking in at only an hour and fifteen minutes, the film never outstays its welcome, and is a pleasingly economic and focused piece of horror cinema.
Sadly, despite such high praise, the film is a frustratingly flawed affair, its effectiveness undermined by bizarre character behaviour on the part of Laura, which in places is likely to elicit laughter rather than screams from the audience. Simply put, after the incident involving her father, as a protagonist her actions simply make no sense whatsoever. Whether or not the viewer assumes there is a killer in the house or something supernatural, the fact is that there is no reason for her to stay on the premises, and to have her spend the rest of the running time wandering around and exploring really does beggar belief, especially once things start getting even more threatening. Since there is initially no indication as to why she might take such a daft course of action, much of the tension is defused, and although the horror genre to a large extent has been based around stupid characters doing stupid things in creepy locations, Hernández pushes things too far. This almost takes the film into the realm of comedy when trying to imagine him firing up actress Florencia Colucci before shooting, which must have been along the lines of ‘here’s your motivation – you’re in a dark house with no power, your father has just been hideously mutilated and there appears to be a killer prowling the shadows. What? No, of course you don’t leave!’
Making matters worse, the final scenes do attempt to provide somewhat of an explanation, though this sadly takes the form of a leftfield twist which only muddies the water further. Although character development isn’t a necessity for this kind of film, being quite unashamedly a thrill ride that thrusts the viewer into the action rather than even pretending to explore the psyche of the protagonist, again Hernández really asks too much of the viewer with a few leaps in logic that only serve to add other nagging doubts as to why she didn’t leave, almost to the point of rendering the film senseless
All of this may sound like pretty harsh criticism, and to be fair it doesn’t quite undo Hernández’ good work in other areas. Certainly, “The Silent House” is still entertaining and enjoyable enough in its own way, and on one level at least is a real tour de force of genre film making. Its remake appeal is easy to see, though it must be hoped that the US version will at least make an effort to fix the many issues, without which the film would have been a truly memorable and far more nerve-shredding affair.
Gustavo Hernández (director) / Oscar Estévez (screenplay) Gustavo Hernández, Gustavo Rojo (story)
CAST: Florencia Colucci … Laura
Abel Tripaldi … Néstor
Gustavo Alonso … Wilson
María Salazar … Niña