AFED #101: La casa muda [The Silent House] (Uruguay, 2010); Dir. Gustavo Hernández
Gustavo Hernández's supernatural horror attracted some attention on the festival circuit by virtue of its principal gimmick: it was filmed in a single unbroken handheld shot and takes place in real time.
There's nothing new about this; Hitchcock ostensibly did the same thing with Rope (albeit cheating due to the technical limitations of the time) and more recently Alexander Sokurov deployed it with his Russian Ark. It's probably more useful to consider The Silent House in the context of horror's ongoing flirtation with vérité techniques in the pursuit of more authentic and visceral frights; a tradition that stretches from Night of the Living Dead to The Blair Witch Project to Paranormal Activity.
Yet despite that the plot harkens back the golden era of Victorian supernatural fiction, with a certain Henry James novella being a particular influence, I suspect. Loosely inspired by real-life events, it tells the story of Laura (Florencia Colucci ), a young woman who travels with her father Winston (Gustavo Alonso) to rennovate a dark, decaying country house for its owner Nestor (Abel Tripaldi) prior to its sale.
Arriving at dusk so they can stay the night and begin work early the next evening. No sooner have they settled down for some rest than Laura begins to hear strange noises emanating from upstairs, where Nestor has warned them not to venture. Like all good horror stories his admonition is willfully ignored and sinister developments ensue.
Given that by its very nature the camerawork would seem to be drawing attention to itself it's notable how unaffected and natural it seems. Although ostensibly subjective, portraying events from Laura's perspective, it assumes a variety of oblique angles that combine with frenzied movement to extract the maximum possible tension. The darkness of the house (there's no electricity) enhances the frights, of course, but also means we only gradually build up a disoriented picture of the place as Laura explores it. Layers of the mystery are slowly unpeeled and belatedly it becomes apparent we, the audience, have been duped by misdirection.
Which isn't to say The Silent House is all that original; the influence of other films of the past decade or so is quite apparent and some of the scares, although well executed, can be anticipated from a mile off. There are also some logical inconsistencies which don't sit comfortably whatever way you chose to interpret the story and a protracted ending that only dilutes the preceding 75 minutes.
Probably the best compliment one can pay is to say that the film rises to the challenges of its self-inflicted restrictions and seeks out creative solutions. This is a taught, intense and largely effective horror that's a good indicator of the state of the genre at the moment.