The Silent House is a low-budget Uruguayan horror film that opens with Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father, Wilson (Gustavo Alonso), just as they are moving into a cottage they plan to renovate with the intentions of eventually putting it up for sale. Not too long after the two arrive and are all settled in for a good night's rest, Laura begins to hear loud noises coming from the upper level of the cottage. When her father doesn't return from his investigation of these startling sounds, Laura is left all by her lonesome, with only the harsh light of a lantern as her guide, to try to find her father and get out of the house alive.
Claiming to deliver "Real Fear in Real Time," director Gustavo Hernández's The Silent House (La Casas Munda) is a handheld horror film shot in one continuous take. Or at least that's what those behind the film would suggest. I think it's safe to assume that competently filming a full-length feature in such a way is nearly impossible, so this claim is basically nothing more than hyperbole meant to generate interest in the film. Regardless, claiming that The Silent House is done in real-time is not an issue for me. I'm not the type of douche that will call them out over the moments where the edits are clearly hidden; I would much rather appreciate the approach they take as well as the execution and how it's achieved.
This one take style of filmmaking has been done before, most notably with Hitchcock's Rope (which really sounds like a porno film) as well as the game show themed, serial killer film, Slashers, which is a lesser known low-budget horror flick that I have always enjoyed more than I probably should. While you will have no problem whatsoever figuring out where the cuts are hidden, the one continuous real-time shot works impressively well passed the gimmick and plays as an effective way to create some truly nerve-wracking tension. The key here is the way cinematographer Pedro Luque brilliantly choreographs the film. For a good portion of The Silent House, the camera is placed in a position similar to that of what one would see in a 3rd person videogame (behind and slightly to the side of the character), and if anyone that has actually played a well-made 3rd (or even 1st) person horror game knows there is a certain level of genuine creepiness that can be achieved if done right. And The Silent House certainly does it right.
The strength of The Silent House comes from how it's technically put together. Luque uses a stabilized handheld approach in capturing the events as they unravel on screen. And with a budget of only $6,000 - which is incredible considering what is achieved - Hernández and Luque employ the techniques of the handheld style of filmmaking as a means to save on money as well as generate true anxiety, without having to resort to the tropes that come with your typical found footage cinema. It would also appear as if most of the film, if not all, is brought to life with the natural light provided by whatever may be around for the characters. Laura spends much of the film terrified, wandering around the decrepit house with only the guidance of candles and, most effectively, a lantern, which gives off a light that provokes an incredibly atmospheric and almost ghostly look from the darkened setting.
In many ways the videogame comparison I made earlier is spot on, as the film has no real immediate plot. The characters are introduced and the horror almost instantly begins, leaving Laura to simply walk around as if she were in a level from a horror themed videogame, as the viewer is left waiting for something to jump out at her. This works as a double edged sword, as I enjoy how there's no bullshit to deal with, just the horror of being in an eerie house with the fear that someone, or something, is out to get you. The pacing is also very patient in a way that can be grueling, leaving the viewer anxious as to when and where a scare might come from. On the other hand, the characters are almost nonexistent and serve no actual purpose outside of being conduits for scare tactics. Well, kind of.
There comes a point late in The Silent House's short runtime (an hour and fifteen minutes, minus the end credit sequence that comes before the film even ends) where I started to wonder how long I could sit and watch this girl continuously walk around a darkened cottage before it gets old. It works greatly for much of the first two acts, but there comes a point where you have to wonder why the hell hasn't she left yet? Incidentally, it's at this point that the character development is introduced in what is a major plot twist. This reveal is what gives the characters any semblance of depth, but by that point, it's a who cares situation. Couple that with the twist being absolutely and utterly horrendous, and you have yourself an experiment in fear that can execute the chills and tension, but not anything that would actually make one care about anyone involved.
I have a few specific films that I could compare The Silent House to for the sake of interesting conversation, but that would most certainly spoil this film for anyone reading this. I will say that you are asked to believe what your eyes do not show you, which is really a lot to ask of your viewers in most any situation. Regardless of its ending, the lack of logic and the too lame too late character depth, The Silent House is a film well worth the time of any horror fan that is looking for a good genuine scare. It's a subtle, authentically creepy, well made horror film that comes from a country that never shows up in the conversation. After seeing The Silent House, I believe that Gustavo Hernández will be one to keep an eye out for.