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The Silent House (2010)

ReviewerPierre Badiola
Rating: 15 (UK)
DVD Release Date: 1 August 2011 (UK)
DirectorGustavo Hernández
CastFlorencia ColucciAbel TripaldiGustavo Alonso
With the horror genre such an overcrowded place these days it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd, and ever since the phenomenal success of The Blair Witch Project, filmmakers have often resorted to scrappy, documentary-like verité in order to engage modern horror audiences eager for new takes on old conventions.

Gustavo Hernández’s The Silent House (La Casa Muda) follows in this tradition but also has another trick up it’s sleeve, in that it claims to be shot in a single, 78 minute take. Even though — much like the film’s claim of having been based on a “true story” — I don’t think it’s entirely accurate, the result is a unique but ultimately disappointing experiment in atmospherics.

The plot follows Laura, a teenage girl (Florencia Colucci playing a generic scream queen) and Wilson her father as they visit a semi-constructed, isolated house in the country. When the owner Néstor goes out to pick up supplies, and the lack of power plunges the house in permanent darkness, a mysterious figure begins to terrorise our heroine. With only three actors and one location, it’s about as basic a horror set up as they come, and at times within the house when all we see is Laura tiptoeing around, occassionally being startled by loud sounds, the film somewhat straddles a line between cinema and theatre.

But what audiences will probably gravitate to most is the single take. What at first may seem like a gimmick could almost be an argument against gimmicks; there are no subplots, background stories, tertiary characters or manipulated camera tricks to distract us — just a girl, a killer and a house. And surprisingly, the first half makes a good case for this minimalist ensemble. Gustavo Hernández provides enough enjoyable and uniquely-staged scares to satisfy, and the film achieves most when it lurches unknowingly in the dark. Both without pretext and without boundaries.

And oh how effective it would’ve been if it continued down that track. Unfortunately in the third act when the disappointingly hum-drum story builds, there is a twist so barely fathomable it undermines both the logic of everything that came before and the tension those early scares worked so hard to build up. Whilst better films in this genre would capitalise on this reservoir of pent-up fear, Silent House ends in a cadence, filled with forced exposition and tidy conclusions.

So is this gimmick novel enough to warrant a viewing? I’d say not really. There are better films out there that utilise verité styling in more original and terrifying ways (The Blair Witch Project[REC] and Paranormal Activity all out-trump this in scares and entertainment value).

What makes it even harder to recommend is the fact that an English language remake has already been made, and is currently making early rounds in festivals. Hopefully the director of the American version will have taken note of these flaws and worked towards making a more cohesive package.

But if you do see this please note that there is a curiously placed epilogue. A five minute sequence that’s one of the film’s best scenes and really does complement the story plays AFTER the credit sequence, for some strange reason. So make sure you stick around for that.