Ambition can definitely detract from a project's bigger picture. The Silent House actually thrives on is aspirations.
The Silent HouseDirector: Gustavo Hernández
Cast: Florencia Colucci, Gustavo Alonso, Abel Tripaldi
US date: 2011-05-11 (IFC On Demand)
It's called "suspension of disbelief." It's that desirable commodity that genre filmmakers hope will lead audiences to follow their sometimes specious flights of fancy wherever they go. From a brave new world fashioned out of the shape of things to come to monsters making meals out of hordes of hedonistic teens, if you don't buy the premise - or in the end, the payoff - you can't get lost in the narrative, and without said ability to figuratively disappear, nothing works. For the first 45 minutes or so of the unique Uruguayan spook show, La Casa Muda (aka The Silent House), we settle in for a suspense-filled night of dread. But by the hour mark, our terror tolerances are waning, and when the twist ending comes...well, let's just say that one's cinematic skepticism it tested to the very limits.
Supposedly based on a true story (from the 1940s) and fashioned in a single take - again, that's questionable - director Gustavo Hernández tells the story of Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father Wilson (Gustavo Alonso). They have come to an abandoned home owned by their friend Nestor (Abel Tripaldi) with hopes of fixing it up quickly and putting it on the market. While father and daughter settle in for the next few days, their association goes out for some food. Almost immediately, Laura starts to hear noises upstairs. Having been warned not to venture up there, Wilson decides to defy such a suggestion and investigate. Soon, he goes missing. Laura then hears more strange sounds. Then Wilson turns up bound, gagged and bloody. As she tries to figure out what is happening, our heroine is convinced that someone...or something else is in the house with her. Before long, the truth of said terror becomes all too clear.
While not really a first person POV production ala The Blair Witch Project or [REC] , The Silent House does play like a skewed bit of scary movie audience participation. You are indeed there as Laura and Wilson enter the creepy abode, witness the initial apprehension and aural angst, and then scoot to the edge of your seat as our young Miss makes her way through an undeniably haunted house. Sure, we don't have a lot of info outside the desire to flip the estate, and Laura acts weird right from the beginning. Still, for at least half of this otherwise flawed film, we are buying everything it is selling - lock, stock, and shock. As she makes her way through the dilapidation and suggestive settings, our pulse quickens and our sense of dread deepens. We are curious what will happen next - where all this will lead...and then, when we get to the end, the level of disappoint is, again, proportional to the same of already established disbelief.
You've got to purchase a lot of narrative contrivance (or at least one boldfaced fake out) to take the finale of The Silent House on fear face value. In essence, the reveal requires you to look at everything you've seen before in a totally different light, and even then, it raises dozens of illogical and improbably questions. Without going spoiler crazy, we suddenly see Laura differently, wonder about the house in general, can't quite figure out who Nestor is and what he means to the family, and why there is a grade school age child/ghost running around. If we believe the basics, some things make sense. But then the attacks...the plea for help...the reaction of those who should really avoid such confrontations... The Silent House just slinks back into the shadows, hoping you had a good time on the way to misguided macabre results.
Granted, we have to look at what Hernandez has done. Carefully constructing a film like this is not easy, even if the number of takes was more than one. Just ask Hitchcock and his experimental Rope. Things have to be anticipated and set-up far in advance, and the crew must be capable of matching continuity even when there is little or no time to keep such situations and circumstances straight. There are times when Laura finds herself bloody and disoriented, and that has to be carried through several more scenes. Similarly, surprises that lurk within the house have to be prepared in advanced so that nothing counterattacks the desire to keep things in real time. Of course, there are key places where edits could be hidden, darkness and changing points of view which allow for subtle celluloid snipping. But for the most part, The Silent House is 88 minutes of shivers without a single flash forward or back.
Of course, there are really two questions which should concern the fright fan. First, can a crummy ending totally destroy an otherwise decent exercise in suspense? Well, if a good ending can salvage a piece of crap (like Paranormal Activity), then a bad one should stunt an otherwise tolerable tale of terror. For this critic, the last few minutes of this movie were not horrible, just reminiscent of a dozen other titles. Some have done it better. Others have been equally as problematic. Similarly, the storyline begs the final query - can you enjoy something that has basically been a ruse the entire time? If you watch 70 minutes of a movie and it suddenly sticks in a "twist" which taints everything you've seen before, does the rest of the horror go out the window?
Both concerns may seem linked, and on some level they are. They also outline where The Silent House succeeds and where it stumbles significantly. For all the effort he puts into the approach, it's too bad Hernandez couldn't tweak the screenplay a bit more (he is a co-writer). Something that builds up such a smashing level of slow burn horror shouldn't peter out under the delusions of a nondescript character's past. Even fleshed out fully, it's hard to imagine the last 10 minutes of this movie working well. They function as genre formula, but not much else. Ambition can definitely detract from a project's bigger picture. The Silent House actually thrives on is aspirations. The basics of believable storytelling...that's something else all together