The Silent House

The Silent House


Reviewed by: David Graham

If you savour suspense, you'll find plenty to chew on with this Urugayan creep-fest. It's the horror genre whittled town to its barest bones, the sort of mood piece MR James would be proud of. Gustavo Hernández's full-length debut is to all intents and purposes a one-take affair - the camera never stops rolling, or at least purports not to (the cuts are apparent but don't detract from the mounting intensity). Refreshingly, the film employs handheld cameras but not in a found-footage format - the roving omniscient lens is itself a character, constantly plucking at your frayed nerves. The lack of narrative and characterisation is also refreshing - it's just a shame the film doesn't quite have the courage of its initial convictions.

We are told that this tale is based on real events, but it's best to ignore such a cheap attempt to justify the lack of logic - it's a gimmick well past its sell-by date, especially given such a threadbare plot. Florencia Colucci stars as Laura, a teenager employed to get the titular abode ready for sale, accompanying her father in the endeavour. When foreboding noises lure him upstairs, she finds herself stranded in a maze of shadows, the antiquated furniture and personal debris stoking her paranoia as she investigates her stifling surroundings.

Copy picture

Credulity is stretched by her explorations - it's never clear why she doesn't just leave, although she eventually does - but if you're willing to suspend disbelief the film operates as a master-class in minimalist tension. The camera cleverly exploits the foreground to keep the viewer on edge: anything can and does loom into the frame in a way that would be amateurish in the context of most film-making, but here it's expertly twanging the strings of your frayed nerves. As well as the usual background-manipulating tricks - half-glimpsed fleeting figures, shadows that seem to dance without the need of CGI animation - there's a whole world of half-imagined terrors in the lead actress' eyes. Endless shots of her face as she explores the house are effortlessly scary for the fact we're often robbed of what she's seeing.

Events do get bogged down in convention - there are undeniable echoes of everything from The Blair Witch Project to REC - but the director displays a real understanding of his material, giving the audience time to build up the horror in their heads as he roams around. The lighting is impressive throughout - locations are beautifully twilit, the shafts of dusk illuminating the dusty detritus to heighten the Victorian Gothic aspect. There are reams of ambiguous history in everything we are shown, ancient artifacts juxtaposed with the scattered remains of modern life. Discarded polaroids and period paintings prove subtly menacing props, the rooms' contents growing more unsettling as Laura seeks answers within her hiding space. To Hernández's credit, they aren't forthcoming for most of the duration, the inexorable drip-feed of imagination-stoking terrors growing into something truly troubling.

So it's a shame when the film takes a detour into psychological rationalization. Considering it's mostly a dialogue-free experience, it could do with dropping some late-game exposition, even though it's largely communicated visually. By that time the damage has been done though - if your patience has withstood the slow burn you will have been amply rewarded with nigh on an hour of delicious tension, and you'll be able to forgive any unnecessary plot machinations. The film also employs a bravely crowd-splitting finale, challenging viewers to bear with it beyond its clichéd revelation. The credit sequence extends past what seems to be the ending to offer something more heartfelt and emotional than most horror stories would dare attempt, made the more beautiful and desperate for being pulled off without camera trickery.

In the end, La Casa Muda is a flawed but admirable attempt to bring the horror genre back to basics, an inspiring example of what can be done with a little ambition and next to no money. Hernández sets himself an intimidating challenge with his technique, and largely does it justice with the finished article. Just be warned that you'll probably be riled by some unnecessary tying up of ends that should have been left loose, a fault that will no doubt be unduly exacerbated in the upcoming American remake.

Reviewed on: 10 Apr 2011
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A young woman considers whether to flee from a house which seems to harbour dangerous secrets.
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Director: Gustavo Hernández

Writer: Oscar Estévez, Gustavo Hernández

Starring: Florencia Colucci, Abel Tripaldi, Gustavo Alonso, María Salazar

Year: 2010

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Uruguay


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