Alfred Hitchcock filmed the 1948 suspense yarn “Rope” to look as if the bulk of the action was captured in a single take.
At least he tried to pull off that feat. Technology handcuffed him, so he ended up using a few tricks to create that illusion.
The new Uruguayan horror film “The Silent House” (“La Casa Muda”) attempts a similar stunt but with far more finesse. You’ll be hard pressed to catch where director Gustavo Hernandez cheats, if he does at all, in capturing this haunted house yarn with one 90-odd minute take. The film’s bigger concern is one shared by today’s found footage horror films like “Apollo 18” and “Paranormal Activity.” This “House” has little room for character development. It’s far more invested in making the simple act of ascending a stair case a knuckle-clenching affair.
Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father, Wilson (Gustavo Alonso) agree to help clean up an old, abandoned home being put up for sale. Don’t think fix and flip, but rather clean, clear and sort. The place is a mess.
They’ve barely begun their work when Wilson goes upstairs to investigate an odd noise and doesn’t return. A suspicious Laura goes after him and finds him wounded, perhaps fatally, the first of several creepy events which turn a simple gig into a slowly unfolding nightmare.
There’s a reason found footage films are all the rage these days. They’re cheap, and when done with a modicum of skill can be creepier than anything Ghostface or Freddy Krueger has up their sleeves. “The Silent House” is unsettling in those early sequences, with Hernandez keeping a firm grasp on both what we see and things we think we might.
Colucci isn’t asked to do much but look petrified, but she’s more than capable of reflecting our fears as she shuffles through the house in search of … something sinister.
But gimmicks are gimmicks, and while the single-take motif places us squarely by Laura’s side it loses its luster the same time the narrative begins to buckle. The third act twist helps explain some of what seemed so convoluted up until then, but the payoff isn’t as chilling as what we imagined during the film’s first, tantalizing scares.
“The Silent House” has already been remade by an American film team starring Elizabeth Olsen in the role of Laura, but that version won’t be hitting theaters until 2012. For now, horror fans can sample the original and decide for themselves if the single-take approach should be the genre’s flavor of the month.
The DVD’s only extra content is the movie’s official trailer.