Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Silent House (2010)

I've watched precisely one Uruguayan horror film so far, and I quite enjoyed it. The premise is simple - shy teenager Laura and her amiable old dad, the rather oddly-named Wilson, move into a remote, rather ramshackle house to do some gardening and generally tidy the place up. We first see them approaching the property through fields, climbing through fences and so on, establishing that, yes, it's kilometres from anywhere. At the house they meet the owner, an old friend of dad's, who helps them get settled in and promises to pop back with some food later.

So far, so familiar. We are expecting Something Sinister to happen. Sure enough, when Laura and her father settle down for the night, the girl hears someone outside. Her father is already asleep, of course, and when she wakes him up he tells her not to worry - there's nobody about. Then, when he nods off again, she hears someone moving about upstairs. They have been warned not to visit the upstairs rooms because of structural problems. But when she wakes dad again, and he sees she's in a bit of a state, he reluctantly agrees to investigate, if she promises to go to sleep when he gets back.

Needless to say, he doesn't get back. Instead Laura hears an ominous cry, followed by a dragging sound. Oo-er. We are well within conventional 'stalk-and-slash' territory, and we are less than half an hour into the movie (which runs for over ninety minutes). Not surprisingly, by this point I was starting to feel some irritation, muttering about derivative ideas and horror movie conventions. But I kept watching, partly because it is a visually arresting film. Despite the familiar setting (oh, look, a grotty kitchen, and here's a bedroom full of antique furniture) the director, Gustavo Hernandez, does a fine job of making the house genuinely eerie.

And, as the action develops, things do begin to take an odd turn - disturbing, rather than horrific. There is a 'secret room' upstairs, and during a couple of scenes we see what appears to be a child. Laura escapes from the knife-wielding killer (who we have glimpsed very briefly) and runs into the bush, only to encounter the house's owner. He insists on going on to the house and looking for his old friend Wilson, whereupon the killer gets him in the time-honoured fashion, leaving him bloodied and bound on the kitchen floor. He does not escape. But Laura does, in a way. The ending is strange, memorable, and has a touch of the fairytale. Whether this country as a supernatural horror film, I don't know. But it's certainly worth a look. And (predictably) there's already an American remake.

Firstly, this film is reportedly based on a real events that happened in Uruguay in 1944. Secondly - and this I find truly impressive - the entire film is shot in one long take. That take is 79 minutes long. I didn't know this until after I'd watched it, but thinking back there is no moment when an obvious 'jump' occurs. The camera follows Laura all the time. This makes the central performance by Florencia Colucci all the more impressive. At first I found her 'terrified little girl who jumps at everything' a bit irritating, wondering whether she would show a bit more fight and initiative. I needn't have worried. While it's not an especially scary movie, it is a remarkably accomplished one.

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