The Silent House is a Uruguayan chiller from debut writer/director Gustavo Hernandez. Superficially similar to - but profoundly removed from - the found footage genre instigated by The Blair Witch Project, the film purports to offer 'real fear in real time', appearing to be shot in one continuous take that takes the viewer deep into the protagonist's terrifying situation. We caught up with Hernandez subsequent to its successful theatrical run and prior to its DVD/Blu Ray release to find out more about the mystery behind La Casa Muda.
David Graham: The film draws on many classic horror/ghost stories and films - the works of writers like M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and films like The Innocents, The Haunting and The Others. What in particular influenced you, and what are your favorite horror stories or films?
Gustavo Hernandez: I’m a great fan of Edgar Allan Poe and Horacio Quiroga [Uruguayan author of short stories, also fan of Poe]. The Silent House has a lot of influences, whether direct or indirect. Two of them are particularly noticeable: David Moreau’s and Xabier Palud’s Them (Ils) and Alexandre Aja’s High Tension (Haute Tension). When I saw them, I started visualizing our film.
DG:The Silent House is in some ways a very traditional film, and in others it is very audacious technically. Which idea came first, the approach to shooting or the story? How did they develop together?
GH:First of all I thought of the approach to shooting because I wanted to experiment from a technical point of view and this narrative approach suited the genre very well. Then we started looking for the story; we wanted something simple and functional. We had a basic idea of the production and an interesting starting point. When we wrote the technical script, we realized how difficult the challenge was, but when we started shooting, it often became impossible, so we had to redesign everything and improvise new movements and choreographies with the actors and the technical team. The Silent House came out of trial and error, after a long planning period. Many films have been made in this film-making style recently - Blair Witch Project, Rec, Cloverfield - but most have been shot by characters from first-person perspectives.
DG: Did you ever think about pursuing that approach?
GH: I knew I didn’t want a single camera recording the events, a never ending subjective take. We had some clear rules. We didn’t want the filmic technique to undermine the story, but rather to become the means to tell that story. In our film, the camera conveys, from a cinematographic point of view, the feelings and emotions the characters go through. On some occasions it stays far from the main character to highlight her loneliness. Some other times it chases her to illustrate her desperation, or watches her through mirrors and reflections, always looking for different ways to capture those moments.
DG: Can you tell us about the imminent remake? Is it staying true to the concept and story of the original? Did you have any doubts about it being made, especially so soon after the original, and with so many remakes of old and foreign films being released?
GH: The remake was made by the directors of Open Water. It was premiered in Sundance but we haven’t watched it. The story was somewhat adapted to the American audience, but they kept the notion of 'real fear in real time' and used the same camera. I can’t say anything about the end result but we’re happy and looking forward to discovering a new outlook on our work. We can’t wait to see the film as these two directors have a clearly defined voice.
DG: Through its ambiguity, the film touches on a surprising and impressive variety of genres - drama, mystery, giallo, the Gothic or supernatural, the psychological. What can we expect from you in the future, what type of film would you like to tackle?
GH: We’re working on a new project called The Funeral of Elbert Kurman. We’re happy with the ideas we’re toying with, as the film shares the same idea of experimentation that The Silent House had, although it’s very different from a filmmaking point of view. We’re going to take a big chance in our second project and we believe we’re dealing with a very interesting idea when it comes to the story, the structure and the way it will be directed. It’s a tribute to the horror genre from an unusual point of view, with very ‘liberal’ shooting techniques. We will soon advance some information about this project.
The Silent House is out now on DVD and blu-ray.