Real-time, one-take gimmick aside, director/co-writer Gustavo Hernandez’s The Silent House is truly a mini-masterpiece of atmospheric filmmaking. Creepy sound design and an eerie nursery-rhyme score heighten the tension even in scenes where not much is happening; sharp cinematography makes the most out of a movie largely lit by lanterns and candles; and a mind-bending twist sends us out of the darkness with the unsettling feeling that we’ve just witnessed the bloody outcome of a profoundly wicked transgression. That said, the film’s primary selling point also serves as its Achilles’ heel due to the fact that roughly 75 percent of The Silent House’s running time is devoted to drawn-out shots of the protagonist methodically tip-toeing around an old house in the dark, inexplicably searching cluttered shelves and dressers while being stalked by a maniac who just murdered her father. Still, patient viewers who don’t mind their horror set to slow-burn will likely find that the effective traits of The Silent House outweigh its shortcomings in the end, even if it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to repeated viewings.
Arriving at a derelict house in the Uruguayan countryside, Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father, Wilson (Gustavo Alonso), explore the exterior while awaiting Nestor (Abel Tripaldi), the owner. Having sat unoccupied for years, the house has fallen into a sad state of disrepair, and Laura and Wilson have been hired to fix it up. Following a brief tour of the house and a warning not to venture upstairs, Nestor leaves and promises to return later with food. Laura and her father plan to sleep in the house and start work in the morning, but just as they’re drifting off, Laura hears sounds that tell her they aren’t alone. After Wilson goes to investigate and turns up dead, Laura finds herself stalked through the house by a shadowy figure who takes sadistic delight in terrorizing her and seems to know her every move. The more Laura explores the house, though, the more its dark secrets start to become illuminated. Later, she discovers a collection of eerie photographs, and all hell breaks loose.
Purportedly based on actual events, The Silent House plays out like an especially effective survival horror video game along the lines of Silent Hill or Fatal Frame -- with the notable exception, of course, that in this case the viewer has no control over the action. In those games, there’s a reason for the camera to remain locked on the protagonist at all times (we need to see what they’re doing in order to control their actions); in The Silent House, however, there seems to be little reason for the movie to take place in a “single” take other than to give the filmmakers a technical challenge, or simply to set the film apart from the pack. Indeed, there are moments in the movie that prove more frustrating than effective for the filmmakers’ refusal to detail Laura’s discoveries with a cutaway (the film obviously wasn’t shot in one long take, but even if it were, couldn’t it still take place in “real time” with a few brief cutaways regardless?).
Still, it’s difficult to deny that Hernandez and co-writer Oscar Estevez do an impressive job of imbuing The Silent House with a foreboding sense of dread. The film’s inventive sound design lends the horror a heightened sense of reality -- especially when Laura manages to briefly escape, and muffled audio allows us to experience the acute sensory distortion of her abject fear. Also, by playing with perspective in a few key sequences, Hernandez maintains a sense of disorientation that’s essential to the effectiveness of the shock ending.
The Silent House is the kind of film that’s likely to divide viewers right down the middle; opponents will cry foul for the horror cliches and claim that the ending is the biggest cheat since Haute Tension, while supporters willing to consider the bigger picture will praise the oppressive atmosphere and perverse twist. Either way you approach it, the film is still an impressive technical feat, and certainly worth a look for horror fans in the mood for something a bit off the beaten path. For subtitle haters and everyone else, there’s comfort in knowing the American remake is already in the can.
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- Released: 2010
- Review: Real-time, one-take gimmick aside, director/co-writer Gustavo Hernandez’s The Silent House is truly a mini-masterpiece of atmospheric filmmaking. Creepy sound design and an eerie nursery-rhyme score heighten the tension even in scenes where not much is hap… (more)