The Silent House (La Casa Muda)
by Jason Coffman
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Cheap digital cameras have helped lead to a boom in “found footage” horror films, but unfortunately they have led to little else but even worse sound than previous generations of no-budget movies. Uruguay’s The Silent House, on the other hand, takes one of the major differences between film versus digital cameras— the virtual removal of time limits on shot length— and tries to build an entire movie out of it. While it is certainly refreshing to see someone using the new technology to try something unusual, the film’s marketing unfortunately takes a lot of the fun out of it. “Real Terror in Real Time” is the tag line on the DVD case, and the hook for The Silent House is that it was purportedly shot in a single uninterrupted take.
Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father Wilson (Gustavo Alonso) arrive at an abandoned house owned by Néstor (Abel Tripaldi) near dark one evening to stay the night and begin cleaning up the grounds early the following morning. Néstor opens the house and gives them a brief tour, warning them not to take the rickety stairs to the second floor before he leaves for town to pick up dinner for Wilson and Laura. Wilson prepares a seat for himself and immediately tries to go to sleep, while curious Laura pokes around the house a bit, at least until she hears ominous sounds coming from upstairs.
Once Wilson goes upstairs to investigate and even worse sounds follow, The Silent House is off and running, subjecting Laura and the audience to loud noises, things jumping out at her, creepy figures dashing past in the background, and every other trick in the haunted house book. Its structure makes for some serious tension, but as the twists and turns pile up, the audience is constantly reminded that we don’t know much of anything about any of these characters, and there is no time to form any serious connection with poor Laura. Despite this, the film does manage a few nerve-wracking sequences, at least on an initial viewing.
Perhaps the biggest problem with The Silent House is its “one take” gimmick. Once a viewer is aware of the claim, it is almost impossible to watch the film without mentally ticking off spots where a cut could be hidden, or to imagine how the camera must have been passed from one operator to another for a particularly tricky shot. While the film occasionally engages the viewer enough to forget the gimmick, it still automatically puts a distance between the viewer and what is happening on the screen. When you’re looking for the whip-pan that hides a cut, it’s hard to get too worked up about what’s actually happening.
The Silent House is an interesting little gimmick horror film, although its few surprises would no doubt be less effective after an initial viewing and its mysteries probably no clearer. The concept hook is so strong, though, that the film has already been remade in English by the co-directors of Open Water. It’s tough to imagine that the remake could be too different from the original, though, and most viewers will probably only want to visit The Silent House once. The subtitles make this one the clear choice— reading the subtitles helps distract from looking for those sneaky cuts.
MPI and IFC Films release The Silent House on DVD on 13 September 2011. The disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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