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The Silent House (La Casa Muda) (2010)

IFC Films
DVD Released: 9/13/2011

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/6/2011

If you think about it, there have always been gimmicks in movies. In fact, when movies were first presented to the general public, the idea of moving pictures was a gimmick. Producers like William Castle ushered in gimmicks like electrified theater chairs and inventions like 3-D were meant to lure viewers away from their televisions. Technology may change, but the idea of gimmicks don't. 3-D has come roaring back in the last five years and concepts like "found footage" movies have tried to fill the seat. The Silent House (AKA La Casa Muda), a film from Uruguay brings back a novel concept which Alfred Hitchcock first tried in 1948.

As The Silent House opens, Wilson (Gustavo Alonso) and his daughter Laura (Florencia Colucci) arrive on-foot at a house in the country. They are soon joined by Nestor (Abel Tripladi), who, we learn, owns the house. Nestor and Wilson are old friends, and Nestor has hired Wilson and Laura to clean and repair the house so that it can be sold. Nestor leaves, promising to return with food for the working duo. Wilson decides that they will get a start in the morning, and he and Laura settle into chairs in the living room to sleep. After a few moments, Laura hears noises upstairs, a place where Nestor told them not to go. At first, Wilson dismisses her, but he eventually wakes up and agrees to check it out. When he doesn't return, Laura realizes that Wilson had the keys, and that she's locked in this house which has no electricity. Using only a lantern, Laura begins to explore and soon learns that the house is full of deadly secrets.

The gimmick in The Silent House is that the entire film is supposed to be one long shot. Of course, this is impossible and it's easy to spot places where the cuts most likely are, such as when the light goes out and then comes back on. The film was advertised as offering "Real Fear in Real Time", and, as such, it delivers. When I first read about the movie, I assumed that it was another "found footage" movie, but it's not, as it's shot like a traditional film, albeit in "one take" and all hand-held. Oddly, this doesn't exactly draw attention to itself. While the MTV generation has grown accustomed to Michael Bay-esque rapid cutting, the proliferation of HD video has also made us used to seeing shots which keep going until the action ends. If I hadn't known going in that this was the "long shot" movie, it would have probably taken me a while to notice this.

So the whole "one take" thing is just a gimmick, right? Well, at first, that seems to be the case, as The Silent House appears to be a movie which offers atmosphere and little else. However, the movie contains a very twisty ending, and afterwards, we realize that the "one long shot" approach was used to present the material in a specific way. The movie provides a classic sleight-of-hand which takes the audience down own path and then reveals something else in the end.

However, Director/Co-writer Gustavo Hernandez and Co-writers Oscar Estevez and Gustavo Rojo have forgotten to fill in the middle part of the movie. The bulk of the movie is simply Laura wandering the house with nothing but a lantern. (Although we can see light coming through the boards over the windows.) Again, the "one take" method eventually becomes part of the story, but it hurts the movie as Hernandez can't do close-up inserts -- therefore when Laura examines something, we can't always get a lot of detail. Hernandez is clearly aware of the widescreen frame, and often places Laura off to one side, so that we must scour the remaining part looking for information. Having seen other movies, we know that directors like to put things in the background, but Hernandez rarely does this. Laura's explorations provide some tension at times, but not enough.

If I were to describe The Silent House to you, beginning to end, including the twist ending and what it means (or at least, how I interpreted it), it would sound like a good movie. The more I think about the movie's structure and conclusion, I realize that Hernandez, Estevez, and Rojo were truly on to something. This is the kind of movie which would probably be better on a second viewing, as some of the things which seemed random would make much more sense. However, unlike Fight Club or The Sixth Sense, I have no urge to sit through The Silent House again. There's simply too much tedium and lack of action in the movie to warrant a second viewing. I like the ideas and the technical concept, but the execution simply doesn't work.

Like most film fans, I don't like the remake fever which has overtaken Hollywood, especially when it comes to foreign films. U.S. filmmakers certainly didn't waste their time with The Silent House. Less than a year after the movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, a U.S. remake debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. I can't help but wonder if this new version will correct the mistakes made in the original. All of that aside, I can honestly say that The Silent House is the best film from Uruguay that I've ever seen.

The Silent House made me wonder why they didn't sleep on the sofa on DVD courtesy of IFC Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The video here is a bit difficult to judge because of how the movie was made. We've got a shot on HD movie lensed in a location using only a lantern for light. Therefore, the image is dark, but intentionally so. The image is sharp and shows no grain or defects from the source material. The opening shots, which occur outside in the daytime, show that the picture is clear and detailed. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I must say that I was disappointed in this track. If there was ever a track which could really enhance a movie, this is it. We get some nice surround and stereo effects, but not that many. Given that Laura is hearing noises throughout the house, this track should have been a non-stop barrage of bumps and bangs.

The only extra on The Silent House DVD is a trailer for the film.

Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long