Director: Gustavo Hernández
“The place looks worse than I thought. And it’s even worse upstairs.”
A young woman, Laura, and her father, Wilson, come to stay in a run-down house having agreed to clean it for old family friend, Nestor, before he sells it. Deciding to bed down for the night before getting started, Laura hears noises upstairs. Wilson goes to investigate and so begins a nightmare hour in the house, in real time.
I’d be lying if I said I’d seen a lot of Uruguayan cinema in my time, but this turns out to be a very good place to start. Gustavo Hernández’s one-shot horror movie premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but has only now been released in the UK. And it’s a little treat. Supposedly based on a true story from the 1940′s, The Silent House relies heavily on atmosphere and execution to compensate for what is a well-worn and oft-told tale. You know the one, someone is trapped alone in a creepy house with someone or something lurking in the house with them. Thankfully, The Silent House delivers the atmosphere in spades. The house itself, old and claustrophobic, is lit only with a few candles and the electric lantern that Laura carries with her. Every unlit corner threatens to contain some unseen menace and this makes for some very tense moments as the terrified Laura makes her way slowly around the house. One highlight is a particularly spooky scene involving a completely darkened room lit only by the flash from a Polaroid camera.
However, it is the execution which is Hernandez’s biggest success. The advent of digital movie-making now allows the truly one-shot movie to be made, and while The Silent House isn’t the first attempt at a completely unedited, single-take movie, it’s by far the most accomplished. What Hitchcock would have given for this technology! From the moment Laura walks toward the house we never leave her side. The unedited nature of our window into proceedings gives them a raw edge which heightens the tension. And Hernandez never once sacrifices the best angle to remain true to the one-take method, moving the camera subtly and casually so we shift between voyeur and participant as the situation demands. True, there are a few moments of total darkness when the odd sly edit could have been inserted, but I prefer to believe that Hernández didn’t take advantage of them.
As the increasingly frantic Laura, Florencia Colucci carries the film extremely well, never appearing conscious of the camera and betraying its presence. She is convincing from beginning to end. And it is only at the end that you begin to realise how accomplished her performance really was. Unfortunately, if there is a downside to The Silent House then it is that final act, when the pace relents and the story is turned on its head. It’s not a bad ending, and you may or may not see it coming but, clever as it is, it feels jarring and a little out of step with the streamlined thrills that have come before it. Still, it intriques and you may find yourself wanting to re-watch the movie once you know what’s going on.
Oh, and make sure you watch the credits.