Saturday, 3 March 2012

Before the remake: The original Silent House

In anticipation of the upcoming remake, I decided to give The Silent House, a Uruguayan feature filmed in a single take about an hour and a half long, a gander.

To say too much wpuld be to spoil the film, but at its most base, The Silent House is about a father and adult daughter who are hired to clean up a derelict house before it is viewed for sale. The owner of the house advises the pair to keep downstairs, but once he’s gone, the daughter hears a loud noise that the father investigates, setting off the horror.

Oh... Em... Spoiler?

The film takes place in real time, so we arrive with the dad and daughter, stay with the daughter as she inspects the place, and follow her in one continuous take for about 77 minutes.

On a technical level, this film is pretty great. Looking in to it, it was very low budget, but you would never know. The lighting is atmospheric, and the house feels all the more claustrophobic in the single take. You never once get the impression that this is anything below a decent studio film standard. The acting is also satisfactory, with the daughter playing a very successful final girl indeed, and the few other performances holding up the film nicely. I wouldn’t say you ever fully invest in anyone, but they aren’t irritating and they serve a two dimensional purpose very well.

It wouldn't be a horror film without 
a creepy black-haired little girl.

Using the phrase ‘two dimensional’, you can see where I’m going to go with this. The whole premise of the film is real fear in real time. The theory being that if you experience the horror with the protagonist as it happens, you will feel more in the moment, therefore more terrified. Unfortunately, the film has one major screw in the works; it’s not scary. Technically great; yes. Well acted; yes. But scary? No.

There are a few moments that might get you a little tense, but nothing that hasn’t been done a thousand times before. It is established early on that the windows and doors in the house won’t open, but this is only established through the daughter briefly tapping at them. The Silent House sells itself short by giving us real time, but not a realistic situation.

'He's behind you!' 'Oh no he isn't...'

This starts from the outset, where the dad falls asleep in seconds. A necessary suspension of disbelief (who wants to watch someone properly go to sleep), but a big one to ask. Plus the light streaming in the window cinematically doesn’t help. Once the shit starts going down, we know the daughter should be smashing the doors or windows away with all her might, not a casual glance. Going upstairs, getting outside but allowing herself to be brought back in, these are all just steps too far.

I know the final act gives some credence to it all, but I found myself detached, not caring what happened to this character who might as well have been a computer controlled droid. Her actions do not represent the audience well, and the situation given to us does not push us to accept her troubles. In fact, the conclusion made me wonder if ‘real fear in real time’ may have been false advertising (you’ll get it if you see the flick). The film has a great thesis of fear in real time, but a very poor execution on a story level (which has been a recurring critique).

The film also betrays its own ‘real time’ ideal by adding in a very lengthy post credit sequence which, though beautiful, is just hammering home a point we all got, and the montage during the end credits reassured. We didn’t need this PS.

Finally, in a bit of a nit-picking fashion, the film isn’t technically one take (not counting the ending). I believe it was shot on the Canon 5D Mark II, which can only record about 20 minutes uninterrupted. The film still seems like one take, and is a hell of an achievement, but I just want to put that to bed.

All in all, the upcoming remake (which Living Dead Girl went to town on the trailer of) looks interesting enough to have made me seek out this interesting little piece. I have hopes for the remake, but if it follows in the tracks of its predecessor, I think it may be, again, a case of technique over story.

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