There are sometimes films that rely on a gimmick to get bums on seats. The Blair Witch Project is a good example as it was the first in a new wave of ‘found footage’ films and for a time at least, people were unsure as to whether it was real or not. More recently there have been films that all take place in a very small or singular location. Phone Booth, Buried and the straight to DVD film Burning Bright spring to mind. As far as I know there has never been a horror film claiming to be shot all in one continuous take until now and the arrival of The Silent House. This proves to be an ace gimmick but kind of a mixed bag.
The film is from Uruguay, a country that hasn’t exactly been known for its cinematic output and is based on a supposedly true story that happened there during the 1940s. Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father Wilson (Gustavo Alonso) arrive at a cottage they are planning to renew as the owner Nestor (Abel Tripaldi) is putting it up for sale. Nestor departs for the evening and Laura and Wilson settle down and relax, hoping to start work on the cottage in the morning. Whilst Wilson is asleep Laura hears loud banging and footsteps coming from upstairs, she wakes up Wilson who goes to investigate, there is a scream and a thud and Laura is left frightened and alone in the dark house. There is also someone or something in the house that has murder on its mind.
For most of its running time The Silent House is a very effective film. Director Gustavo Hernandez limited by his one take gimmick, still manages to put his camera in some interesting places. Whereas in most horror films the leading lady would be framed mid close up with a large amount of space off to one side so you know where the next scare is coming from, here Hernandez camera will quite often pull right back so that the frightened actress is in the background and a creepy dark staircase is in the foreground. Then the shot is held right up to the point where it becomes uncomfortable. You expect something to appear at the staircase but this never happens, the tension as you watch expectantly is brilliant. When the jump scares do come, they are very effective, I’ll admit I haven’t shouted out loud in shock during a film since Insidious and before that very rarely did this happen. Hernandez also manages to use small hiding places and mirrors in the house quite well. Considering this was apparently all in one take I kept expecting the camera crew to pop up in a reflection but it never happened. They must have rehearsed the hell out of this to get it right. The performances from the three actors involved are also all very solid, especially Florencia Collucci who plays frightened and desperate without missing a beat.
The film falls down because in the end it gives into the problem that has plagued many a production. It introduces an unnecessary and redundant third act twist to try and make it all mean something. Truthfully the film didn’t need it and the makers should have stuck to their guns. It isn’t really believable and well thought out because a lot of it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It really is a letdown because much of the first hour is so brilliant. The all in one take gimmick does give the production an air of believability much like the previously mentioned found footage movies. The film isn’t a found footage horror though and the decision to film on digital does give the whole thing a slightly cheap amateur feel which is a shame because the acting is top notch. There is also a moment where the sound seems to go muffled after the lead actress turns and bolts off screen, it’s not clear if this was an artistic choice or actually a technical slip up where they had to keep going. If the film truly is all one shot as claimed then colour me amazed but you don’t have to be an editing genius to figure out where the hidden cuts could be.
It is no surprise that there is already a Hollywood remake on the way, directed by the team behind Open Water and starring one of the Olsen twins. The original is worth a look though, invite some friends round and watch in the dark for full effect, just don’t think about it too much.
The Silent House is out now on DVD/Blu-ray