“It’s worse than I thought, but it’s even worse upstairs… It’s dangerous. Do not go there.”
Uruguayan director Gustavo Hernández claims to have shot the first 78 minutes of The Silent House in one continuous unbroken take. Personally, I don’t believe that to be true, as there are plenty of times the camera goes to black passing furniture or into shadows which could hide a cut, but he does pull off the illusion with some incredibly long uninterrupted shots, and that is very impressive indeed.
The single, shaky handheld camera lends a claustrophobic anxiety to the proceedings. Working with shadows and reflections brilliantly, Hernández builds the tension with jump scares and things going bump in the night. I kept waiting for the big bad to jump out and attack… or at least something to happen. Unfortunately, very little does, and if you are still awake by the big reveal at the end you are likely to be deeply unimpressed, if not flat out angry for the 89 minutes you will never get back.
Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father, Wilson (Gustavo Alonso), arrive on foot at nightfall at a crumbling, derelict estate. They have been commissioned by employer and longtime family friend, Néstor (Abel Tripaldi) to clean up the estate and grounds so he can sell the property. Néstor meets them there to let them in. It is determined it will take three days work. The building has no electricity and is in such a state of disrepair, Néstor warns them not to go upstairs lest they fall through the loose floorboards.
Determined to get an early start, Laura and Wilson settle into some armchairs and try to get some sleep. Turns out The Silent House is anything but silent; instead it is chock full of creepy noises. Of course, only Laura hears them, and her father doesn’t believe her. After several frustrating minutes of dad not hearing what sounds like obese people walking about upstairs, Laura convinces him to check it out. Moments after he goes up, Laura hears what sounds like something attacking and dragging him across the floor. This begins an extended game of cat and mouse as something stalks Laura throughout the house as she searches for a key to unlock the front door so she can escape.
Florencia Colucci conveys fear very well, but there is little else for her to do. We know nothing about the characters and are given no reason to care about them. In fact, Wilson is so frustratingly dense you find yourself hoping something would happen to him. If you were alone in an abandoned house in the middle of the woods and your grown daughter claims to be hearing something else in the house, would you just dismiss her and order her to go to sleep? What’s up with them arriving the night before they start work and spending the night in the place anyhow? If they live close enough to walk there, why not show up early in the morning and spend the night safe and comfortable at home in their own beds? Finally, if you were in a house with something trying to harm you or the ones you love, why waste time looking for a key to unlock the front door? Wouldn’t you just smash out one of the many large windows on the first floor, climb out, and get as far away from the place as possible?
Instead, we follow Laura around the house. That is pretty much the whole movie, following Laura as she stumbles through the house, around and around. The final reveal was so lame and cliché, I found myself yelling at my TV, cussing the movie out.
Now I understand this is a very low-budget affair, and Hernández finds ways to creatively up the production values to make the movie look better than it has any right to, but the script doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. I was so bored in by the final third, I prayed for the end come quickly and painlessly. Alas, in the case of The Silent House, my prayers were not answered.
The transfer on this disc is about as good as DVD can deliver and is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The blacks are crushed, which is counterintuitive to the way Hernández works shadows and darkness. There is very little in way of color range, but that is intentional.
The Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track is effectively immersive and almost serves as its own character in the movie. Hernan Gonzalez’s creepy soundtrack and the SFX are mixed well against the dialog which has been captured crisp and clear, but it didn’t matter that much as I don’t speak Spanish and just read the subtitles.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
Hernández really does elevate the shaky cam to an art form and definitely has a great eye for mood and tone; he just needs some solid material to work with. As much as I love a good atmospheric, slow burn, haunted house movie, I found The Silent House plenty atmospheric, just with no burn and a whole lot of slow.
“There is no one out there, Laura. Just go to sleep.”