The Silent House Review: Twist Off

On Limited Release Friday 8th of April, Spanish language

Scaring the shit out of people in ‘real time’, this Uruguayan horror – purportedly shot in one, 78 minute take on a digital SLR – is a prodigious display of scare-by-numbers technical skill, but a flaccid plot twist dampens the preceeding hour’s throbbing tension. By pouring a bucket of overcomplication retrospectively onto a potential genre classic, writer Oscar Estevez insults the film’s intelligence, and undercuts its clarity with a load of pointless faff. Shame on him.

Teenage Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father Wilson (Gustavo Alsono) are staying in an ominous dilapidated house in order to do it up for Wilson’s mate Nestor (Abel Tripaldi) so he can sell it. Nestor tells them not to go upstairs, so no prizes for guessing where they’re headed. Bedding down for the night, Laura hears some bangs and scratches from the deserted top floor, and convinces her father to investigate, only for him to return a few minutes later a mutliated corpse. Instead of scramming, she grabs a gardening scythe and goes in search of her dad’s assassin. Natch.

Although the set-up might be a well-thumbed tome on the bookshelf of horror, the inventive execution never leaves it stale. Even when the glowing ghost of a little girl flitters in the back of shot, or a creepy dolly makes an appearance, the claustrophobia of the single shot never relents. We don’t stray more than a few feet from Laura, while the camera twists and turns with a fluidity that mimics an edit, even morphing into POV. You could expect a film in one take to operate like a play, but The Silent House‘s lack of dialogue and nimble use of sound, cinematography and fistful of filmic references (Hitchcockian mirrors, and of course Hitchcock’s one-take Rope, filmed in 10-minute segments, The Omen, Don’t Look Now) submerge it in cinematic tradition.

So why, oh why, the twist? The power of the first 60 minutes lies in its glorious simplicity – a girl, in a house, with a monster. The ensuing slurry of appropriated backstory sully what had appeared ingenious, surreal and effortless, and the closing scene is a nightmarish (not in a good way) add-on of M Night Shayamalan-like proportions.

There seems to be some subterfuge at work with the film’s one-take selling point, as Time Out reports that the camera used, a Canon EOS 5D Mark II SLR, has a shot limit of one hour. Disregarding the veracity of the poster’s claims, Silent House is as technically impressive as it is terrifying, but a show of directorial muscle will never compensate for the earth-shattering disappointment of the final minutes.