Film Review: La Casa Muda (The Silent House)
La Casa Muda (The Silent House)
Director: Gustavo Hernández (2010)
My morning quite often begins, (especially if I’m going to work at crappy supermarket) with me utterly failing to pay due care and attention while walking into the living room and stepping on something. Often this ‘something’ is a dirty plate or glass, occasionally it’s an empty bottle or can and it’s not unheard of for it to be a dirty plate with an empty bottle or can on it. Whatever the object, the result is always the same; a particularly bitter exclamation of the word ‘fuck’, followed by muttered curses directed at whichever housemate I decide, (Chris) has left the offending item. Every once in a while though, the game changes and rather than a dirty plate, a DVD gets left on the floor. Such was how I came to discover The Silent House, a Uruguayan horror film (that’s been re-released in honest, god fearing English with honest god fearing American actors cause it’s still original if the idea you’re remaking word for word is original, see REC/Quarantine), that has the gimmick of being a ‘real-time romp’ filmed in one continuous shot. This is a gimmick so new, its only 74 years old. ’Well’, thought I’ ‘regardless of how gimmicky real-time may be, it is a Spanish language horror, they’ve tended to be decent in recent years, and my housemates (with the exception of Chris) tend to have good taste in films’. So, once again demanding Chris turn off 2012 (he watches it at least once a week, making him the closest thing to a masochist I’ve ever lived with), I gave it a go.
Usually there’d be a plot summary here, but The Silent House (TSH) has a light approach to the whole plot thing, at least until the end, so instead I’m going through the thing chronologically and then ending with my opinion, oh and there’ll be a plot spoiler, cause whatever plot The Silent House (TSH) does introduce, just begs to be spoilt.
We begin with WALKING!
Somewhere in the countryside, a lady in her late teens/early twenties (Florencia Colucci) walks behind an older bearded gentleman (thus confirming it’s a Spanish language film, where all men have beards or are transvestites, see anything by Pedro Almodóvar). Both are dirty, move as though tired and carry rucksacks that look pretty full. The walk is accompanied by weird music involving chimes, the novelty of which wears out very very quickly. This walk lasts a long long time, giving me some time to contemplate a question, a question I think I’ll end my review with, so there’s that to look forward to. I also have to mention the apparent TSH feedback from a housemate who isn’t Chris and was once possibly irradiated, she allegedly said the first five minutes of TSH were brilliant, so either said housemate is an idiot, comedic genius, or just really really really really really likes walking.
The walk ends at a boarded up stone cottage surrounded by a dilapidated stone wall and archway. It’s here The Bearded Man speaks the first words of TSH, ‘They’re not here yet’, which, considering he hasn’t checked around the house, or even inside, seems incredibly presumptuous to me. The two briefly stand under the archway in a way that’s in no way natural but allows for a nicely framed shot, (seems even briefer when compared to the amount of time spent walking), then a car pulls up. The Lady, whom I can’t be arsed to call ‘The Lady’ anymore, and so am prematurely revealing to be named Laura, gets inside the car, meanwhile the car’s driver, (another older man with requisite Spanish language beard) gets out and has a conversation with the original Bearded Man.
From the conversation it can be ascertained that Laura and The Bearded Man, (who I likewise can’t be arsed to keeping calling ‘The Bearded Man’ and so am prematurely revealing to be Laura’s Father), have agreed to fix up the cottage for the man with the car. Restoration will apparently start the following morning, so first Laura and father need to stay the night, (see where this is going yet?). The man with the car has apparently arrived to deliver the house key, and leaves before anyone can mention the fact he could have driven Laura and father to the cottage and saved us all a lot of time spent walking. The man in the car drops off the key and leaves with a warning that the two shouldn’t go upstairs because it’s dangerous, which begs the question why he’s letting them stay there overnight instead of putting them up somewhere safe and just driving the two over in the morning, anyway, warning received the two enter the cottage, or Silent House, if you want to link events to the title.
There’s no power, which leads to some interesting use of darkness, if interesting can be used for a device to get the camera in the correct position. There’s tons of weird knick-knacks dotted around tables and desks, and everything looks a bit like a run down version of The Doc’s house in Back to the Future III (the wild west one Chris, if you’re reading this). The two look around a bit using insanely bright torches, then lay in weirdly positioned chairs in the middle of the room that face each other. There’s no observable reason for the two chairs to be facing each other, but it’s lucky they are because once again it makes for a nicely framed shot, silent house yes, but also a filmic one.
Laura’s father goes straight to sleep, but Laura’s attempts are hampered by strange sounds coming from upstairs. Laura wakes her father, who isn’t impressed and goes back to sleep, leading to a repeat of the strange noises from upstairs, a sequence that the glass half empty side of me would like to call padding. Cue Laura waking daddy again. This time he goes to investigate, making Laura promise she’ll go to sleep after he does. Sadly he doesn’t include what to do if he ends up coming back downstairs barely conscious, bleeding from the head and with his hands tapped together. This would have been quite helpful for Laura, seeing as that’s exactly what happens. Laura screams a bit and begins a long process of holding her torch ridiculously close to knick-knacks to look at them. She also demonstrates remarkable prowess for a horror film heroine by actually trying to leave the house. The door unfortunately, isn’t so inclined and remains firmly shut, as do the boarded up windows, leaving Laura to stand awkwardly in the middle of the room. Awkward for her, but not for the camera, which manages to take advantage of Laura’s awkward and some would say unrealistic stance to move into a position to frame her nicely in a door way. Again at this point that question I’m holding off till the end of this review visited my head. Next there are some more sounds and an oddly placed live bird (which is never seen again) on top of a fridge which causes one of those ‘end of Jaws’ cheap shocks. It all combines to allow Laura to revert to horror heroine type and stupidly investigate the sounds coming from upstairs rather than hide somewhere and try to remain safe.
It’s here I’m gonna stop the chronological commentary and just give an overview. The camera follows Laura, possibly due to bad eye sight looks incredibly closely at a million and one different knick-knakcs, some tense, eerie stuff happens, there’s a couple of moments of genius involving an old fashioned stills camera flash (we wannabe filmmakers like to differentiate between moving and still photo cameras, it helps us get past our obviously tiny penis syndrome), and finally Laura escapes The Silent House……………………….only to be helpfully brought back by the bearded guy driving the car from before, who has no reason for returning as it’s nowhere near morning. Cue some more tension, and then the biggest of bullshit endings.
An ending of such bullshit magnitude, it changed my entire opinion of the film and was leading to a ranty, ‘this is as bad as Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ review. Then I took a day and thought about TSH as a whole, and I became more positive, then the ending crept back into memory and I hated the damn thing again. This conflictual thought process continued until I considered the possibility that I’d developed Dissociative identity disorder. Then I just figured I’d write both opinions in the review and that seemed to settle my mental state down nicely. So here we go……………….
Not including the ending; I quite liked TSH; it took a while to get into it, and the actors positioning is sometimes a little jarring, but there’s some nice stuff. The absence of plot made everything seem a little scarier, because literally anything could be happening. There were some tense moments, despite the location being as generic a haunted house as film can get. It’s not a new idea, and throughout the question occurred I’m going to finish this review with was never that far from my mind, but overall, a decent film with an impressive performance by Colucci.
The ending occurs, and this is pre-spoiler; the ending attempts to explain everything in the last three minutes and reduces TSH to little more than a whodunit. They may as well have had a net fall from the ceiling trapping a suit of armour that’d been chasing Laura from room to room, and then have the Scoobie Gang turn up and unmask the suit of armour for all the subtlety this attempt achieved. Actually, it’s worse than that because they also try and explain the haunted aspect of the house by pretending it didn’t actually happen, so it’s like the Scoobie Gang turned up, and then after the unmasking they cut to Laura waking up in bed and it was all a dream. I call bullshit, no way a horror film can even try and be scary if it presents the idea the scary shit we’re seeing isn’t happening. It leaves an utterly bad taste in the mouth just typing this now, why would you slap your audience in the face like that, bullshit!
Spoiler time, also the spoiler will end for the closing question, so do skip to that, it’s a good question and I’ve built my whole review around asking it.
Laura was the murderer and did everything herself, no idea why, but it involved an aborted child, there, I shouldn’t even really include this a plot spoiler, but it’s such bullshit that I can’t stand the idea of not
Plot Spoiler ends
Final thought, ok why do films deliberately adopt a single camera style? Well there’re two reasons I can think of. There’s the Blair Witch (who used 2) et al video diary idea, which works to varying degrees, or there’s the claustrophobic approach, where a certain where a single camera is used to create and maintain that atmosphere, an approach we actually tried in a short film once. Either way, it creates a certain type of realism or resonates a certain way with you’re audience, so here’s the question.
Question; if you’re going to roam about a house and use total darkness to cover your camera changes, why the fuck would you bother? It brings nothing extra to the screen, and even becomes counterproductive by creating (inevitable) draggy moments. It also gives you the headache of having to find a multitude of ways to cover-up the fact you’re slowly moving the camera to a set-up. I’m not saying it isn’t impressive that TSH attempted it, but it’s the equivalent of having a big penis and whipping it out; sure (or so I imagine) you’ve got some added abilities in the bedroom but try using it to paint a Picasso and you’re just unnecessarily limiting yourself, and then even if the painting looks like Picasso, all anyone is going to say is that it looks like a Picasso. Then when you tell them you used your penis, they’re going to look at you weird, think you’re a show-off overly attached to your penis and ask why you didn’t just use a brush. I just can’t see why anyone would bother doing a film this way if the exact same results can be achieved with edits and cuts and be a lot less hassle.
Written by Sam ‘recently punched in the face by Chris’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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