Written by: Oscar Estévez (screenplay), Gustavo Hernández (story), Gustavo Rojo (story)
Directed by: Gustavo Hernández
Starring: Florencia Colucci, Abel Tripaldi and Gustavo Alonso
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Real Fear In Real Time
The Silent House is a film that reminds us that a director’s greatest weapon is their camera, and it accomplishes this largely in the absence of cinema’s most deceptive tool: editing. Presented in one continuous take, this import from Uruguay rarely blinks as it takes a tired genre (the home invasion thriller) and delivers it with swerving ferocity, with its fluidity doing its best to transcend its gimmickry. Despite its direct minimalism, The Silent House opens up questions of voyeurism and lens objectivity in deceptively clever fashion.
The film opens with a modicum of setup, immediately placing the camera behind Laura (Florencia Colucci), who wanders in from a field to join her father (Gustavo Alonso) and his friend, Nestor (Abel Tripaldi). Since the latter has put his house up on the market, they’ve all joined to repair it, with the father and daughter deciding to stay overnight (despite a lack of electricity). Once night falls, Laura begins to hear strange noises that may be emanating from within the house, which sends her skulking about in search of the possible intruder.
If your first reaction there is to ask why she doesn’t just leave the house in the first place (and this is something you will probably ask multiple times), fret not--it eventually makes sense. In fact, this is one of the movie’s better tricks, as it seemingly senses what audiences might be expecting, and it sometimes even comes dangerously close to cheating. Since we’re following Laura from the beginning, her character almost automatically engenders some sort of trust in the audience; however, this is somewhat contrary to the film’s shooting style, which sub-consciously registers as being completely objective. I would stop short of saying it does outright cheat; instead, it’s much more apt to say that The Silent House preys on such expectations with its faux-verite approach.
Such a term is an obvious contradiction, but Gustavo Hernández’s style falls somewhere between found footage and a more traditional cinematic experience. The film is obviously lensed from an objective position, plus the film is sparsely scored with moodily-clanking keys to manipulate audiences; however, the guerrilla nature of the shoot subtly tricks us into some assumptions about the “reality” of what we’re seeing. There’s something a little discordant about how this suddenly becomes a psychological thriller; though it has a home invasion setup that would impact on a purely visceral level, The Silent House veers into more cerebral territory--suddenly, not only find yourself questioning just what’s being seen (particularly when spectral little girls pop up), but also distance between the lens and Laura’s character. It’s obviously not told from her point-of-view, but is slowly begins to feel like it is.
Beneath all of this lies a pretty standard horror movie relayed with undeniable precision; there’s a reason we often marvel at long takes, so when it’s taken to this extreme degree, it’s all the more impressive (even though there are some moments where cuts are cleverly hidden). While the actors' performances are solidly believable, but the real star is Hernández’s camera, which slinks and skulks about the house; since obvious cuts aren't an option to hide certain information, he simply takes the camera and lets it hang out in doorways while the action happens off-screen. Such tactics seem to be a bit obvious, but you can almost feel yourself being toyed with. Sometimes, you’re privy to certain information, sometimes not, but Hernández parcels out just enough creepy imagery to draw out an interesting mystery.
It’s ultimately a mystery with a fairly unsurprising reveal; at this point, the only thing that might be more worn out than home invasions are the twist that eventually happens here, but the way it works in conjunction with the approach is fresh in its trickiness. Without its impressive style, The Silent House no doubt would have been consigned to the same pile of average movies with similar twists. As a straightforward thriller, it’s fuelled by a fair amount of intensity once it ramps up; this is no doubt a slow burn, and the minimum amount of character introduction had me wondering if I even cared as this girl crept through this admittedly spooky house. Suddenly, though, there was a chair-jumper about 45 minutes into it, and we were off and running.
While I’m much more interested in the extra-textual stuff that its style caused me to ponder, The Silent House is a fine gimmick thriller that roves with ease before trailing off into a haunting, sad-place (that you’ll need to sit through the credits for--this might be the longest post-credits coda I’ve ever seen). I'm not exactly sure what the impending U.S. remake will have to offer aside from letting us watch Elizabeth Olsen go nuts, but that sounds like as good an excuse for any. In the meantime, check out the original on IFC’s DVD, which is solid enough--the presentation is fine, with the 5.1 soundtrack being especially impressive, but fans of special features will be dismayed to find a lone trailer. This one is definitely worth a look for the technical prowess alone, so Buy it!
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