By: Zombie Grrl
There are a number of reasons that the “creepy house” film is such an enduring sub-genre of horror, they are relateable to audiences, budget-friendly for indie filmmakers and when done right, are effective as hell. But for a single location, spooky house film to work it’s all about building the atmosphere, isolation helps, but a good sound mix is essential. Match eerie music, sinister thuds with lots of doors, shadowy nooks and crannies you’re on the right track. And if you can throw in some ominous set dressing like animal skulls, dust cobwebs and miscellaneous unidentifiable things floating in jam jars you’ve got yourself a winner — as evidenced by The Silent House. The first two thirds of this Uruguayan import absolutely nails the atmosphere. As a result the film has garnered a fair amount of buzz both for its effective chills and for being a the first professionally shot, single take horror film. And mostly it’s deserved the acolades however, while the first two thirds are all
claustrophobia, mystery and menacing bumps in the night, the final act, well… that’s another story.
Directed by Gustavo Hernández, The Silent House is allegedly is inspired by real events that took place in a small Uruguayan village in the 1940s and focuses on Laura a young woman who has m
et up with her father at an out of the way house which the two intend to begin repairing the following day in order to sell. As they settle in for the night Laura begins hearing a loud thudding sound, that at first seems to be coming from outside and then later from the floor above. Laura convinces her father to investigate upstairs while she waits below, when he doesn’t return after what sounds to be a vicious attack. Laura finds herself locked inside the house and what follows is a game of cat and mouse between Laura and the mysterious inhabitants of the house.
From a cinematic perspective The Silent House is a stunning achievement, clocking in at 86 minutes the film is made up of a single shot. Using mirrors and clever blocking the director is able to achieve a number of different prospectives simultaneously without having to call cut. Half the fun of the film is watching the ingenious ways the director is able to mimic a classically created film with a single take method. The other half is the genuinely suspenseful exploration of the house that Laura undertakes in an effort to find the house key that will allow her to escape the house. Working against her is the house itself, which looks like a cross between an episode of Hoarders and Leatherface’s South American vacation home.
There’s no question that this portion of the film is scary, boasting a number of heart stopping jump scares that are brutally effective and one prolonged scene involving the flash from a Polaroid camera that is gasp-inducing. Had the film continued on this trajectory The Silent House would likely have been near the top of my Best of 2011 List, however a third act plot-twist, sadly, turns this genuinely frightening hunt-and-stalk experience into a muddled psycho-sexual mess.
*** SPOILERS START ***
After briefly facing off with her would-be killer Laura manages to escape the house and begins running to safety, where she sees in a pool of light created by a street lamp a female child, that could have been plucked from a Grudge film. This vision is interrupted by an approaching car, and behind the wheel is an older man who Laura recognizes as her undefined acquaintance Nestor who insists on taking her back to the house to investigate. Laura initially resists returning only to be separated from Nestor once back in the house, leaving her to take up her investigation again where she unveils a nursery and a room full of sexy-time Polaroids of her and other young women getting frisky with Nestor and her father.
This is there the film well and truly goes off the rails and we discover our survivor girl is a in literary terms an “unreliable narrator” who driven mad by the murder of her child and is now reaping revenge on the men who likely fathered (it’s implied but not totally clear if she had a sexual relationship with both men, or just Nestor) and then killed her child.
While on paper this twist might seem to work, lets face it women driven mad over the loss of a child is pretty low hanging fruit — plus, it’s cheap blow to our survivor girl. What began as an excellent stalker vs survivor thriller becomes a rape revenge film, but without the faintest hint of empowerment that the exploitation sub-genre boasts. Because Laura is only aware of her actions in brief moments of clarity, there is no sense that she is making the conscious decisions of a victim turned avenger, rather she is just a madwoman broken by the men who victimized her. By making her the unwitting villain it demonizes a victim of incest rather than galvanizing the audience behind her. A very disappointing conclusion to what was initially a well executed premise.
*** SPOILERS END ***
Though far from perfect, The Silent House, is worth a watch if only to marvel at the skillful manipulation of the single take format. Florencia Colucci’s turn as Laura is all the more impressive for the fact that she only had a single opportunity to express her terror, and she does so believably throughout the running time. This ability to emote under unconventional circumstances combined with her resourcefulness in avoiding and ultimately taking on her “stalker” makes for excellent survivor girl, that frankly deserved a much better resolution. For fans of the claustrophobic hunt and stalk film we recommend Burning Bright as an example of this type of film done right, top to bottom.