With jaded modern audiences, in can become increasingly difficult for horror filmmakers to engage their audience with any kind of tension or scares. Some resort to extreme shock tactics, but there is also the ‘found footage’ subgenre, where the camera itself is part of the story in an attempt to fully immerse the viewer into the story. The Uruguayan film The Silent House uses a variant of this approach – keeping the documentary style, but shooting in real time.
The result is a 76-minute film that spans 76 minutes of time – plus credits and a post-credits sequence – as Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father (Gustavo Alonso) spend the night at an old house they are to clean up prior to it being sold. Soon Laura hears strange noises and her father goes to investigate…and does not return.
A lot of the hype around The Silent House claims that it is shot in a single take. This is not true, as further investigation reveals the movie was shot with a Canon 5D Mk II. This is a DSLR stills camera that just happens to shoot great high-resolution video and as such has become the indie film tool du jour. However, it simply cannot shoot for 76 minutes and the observant viewer can spot the likely cut points in the film.
The 5D is also notoriously difficult to focus and the makers in this case seem to have decided to go with a shallow depth of field. This makes the images look gorgeous – and they really do – with the background blurred out when the foreground is in focus, but with the long handheld takes, cameraman Pedro Luque really does battle with the focus throughout. It is testament to his skill that this is rarely distracting.
The ‘real time’ gimmick winds up being both the strength and weakness of The Silent House. Undoubtedly it does work in creating immediacy in the tension and mood of the piece, but also means the film is worn down a little by long stretches of, well, a girl walking around a house.
There is very little dialogue – possibly to avoid the risk of actors flubbing lines and ruining a ten minute take – which means almost no character development and very little plot. The sequence of events is also highly reliant on characters doing, frankly, really dumb things over and over. To its credit, the movie does play its third act reveal in a quite subtle way, although jaded horror fans may well see it coming a long way off.
Technically impressive – not least of all because its reported budget was a miserly US$6000 – The Silent House has great moments but is ultimately too lightweight to resonate. A pleasant distraction, but not much more.
Director: Gustavo Hernández / Country: Uruguay / Year: 2010 / Studio: Madman / Run Time: 83 minutes