The Silent House chills your bones even if it doesn’t quite get under your skin.
From the spiffy 3D of 1953’s House of Wax to the mock-doc histrionics of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, the horror film has proved a fertile place for formal experimentation. After all, no one questions the point of something if it’s petrifying, and where better to innovate than from the margins?
Unfortunately, for every envelope-shunting eureka moment there’s cheap gimmickry aplenty – William Castle’s electrified seats and Smell-O-Vision spring to mind, although the two were, sadly, never combined. Perhaps cheesiest of all was the 'Werewolf Break' in The Beast Must Die, a 30-second countdown inviting viewers to guess the culprit – the producer, presumably – or just nip out for a cheeky slash.
So it’s with a little trepidation that even the most hardened horror fan will approach The Silent House, a 78-minute Uruguayan spook story shot, apparently, in one unbroken take (although it looks more like five plus, albeit cleverly concealed). By necessity the set-up is a simple one – Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father (Gustavo Alonso) prepare Nestor’s (Abel Tripaldi) remote cottage for sale – so there’s no need to dwell too much on plot, particularly as no one else has.
To begin with the ever-present, ever-juddering camera irritates where it should immerse. Although there are legimate reasons for not using a steadicam, every bump jolts us out of the story, reminding us that Laura is being filmed by a cinematographer rather than shadowed by an all-seeing eye. Once she’s alone in the dark, however, it’s a different story – a shit-scary one.
As in The Blair Witch, the sense that we’re exploring an oppressive, 360-degree reality rather than a set makes up for any amateurish moments, and the insistently creepy atmosphere is punctured by some brilliant heart-in-mouth gotchas.
Besides the clever use of Polaroid photos, which map real time the same way director Gustavo Hernández aspires to, there’s no depth or subtext here; the decision to film in this manner reducing everything to a meal of condiments – all salt and pepper, no sustenance. But so what?
Ambitious, technically accomplished and, in places, extraordinarily effective, The Silent House chills your bones even if it doesn’t quite get under your skin.
The greatest idea ever?
You’ll cack yourself then forget why.
A flawed but fascinating experiment.