Month of Horror 2015: World Edition – Uruguay: The Silent House (La Casa Muda)

Editor’s Note: These posts originally appeared starting here on the AV Club *stares off wistfully*. They are being reposted for completionist sake as this annual series continued onto the AVCAD and now here. Also, forgive the writing for I was younger and dumber and these were written to appear in comments so don’t include pictures and are far shorter and less thorough than the series is now. They have been preserved as they were.

Month of Horror: World Edition
10/14/2015 – Uruguay: The Silent House (La Casa Muda) (2010)
Directed by Gustavo Hernández

Uruguay is yet another country I have no experience with their cinema (this series is really making me feel like a real narrow minded idiot) and like so many of the other countries suffered from a long period of not producing many films due to the controlling dictatorship only to expand more in the 90’s and beyond. Unlike many of them however, there hasn’t yet been a breakout film with The Silent House being quite possibly the closest to one yet.

The gimmick here is that the film was (allegedly) done in a single unbroken shot, which while hardly original (Russian Ark beat it to the punch by 7 years), is still an impressive feat especially on a tiny budget and shot in four days. While impressive it still doesn’t inherently mean that it is something that benefits the film.
It certainly feels much more gimmicky than say Birdman (even if the that one was more admittedly “faked”) where the style directly ties into the narrative, but does have more in common with the scenes in films such as Atonement or Children of Men(though nowhere near as amazing looking as those) seeking to amplify the mood and suspense. In many ways this brings me back to Willow Creek from just a couple days ago showing similar advantages and disadvantages to its oner scene.

Film wise it looks like a small step above such intentionally found footage films which is forgivable considering the budget and difficulty of such a film, but making me long for a more natural camera movement. There are definitely a number of obvious places for cuts which the film more than likely took advantage of Rope style considering the camera they used can only shoot in 15 minute chunks. Like Willow Creek though it both suffers from not being able to cut out a bit too much dead time and benefits from the fact that no scene ending prevents you from leaving the edge of your seat. There is a bit too much of an artificial feeling at times when movie tries to get too fancy with its camera work trying awkwardly to take advantage of mirrors but rather obviously not being able to do so at certain angles and by trying to add visual flourishes which feel out of place.

Unlike many of these low budget films (and even some higher budget ones) both in and out of this marathon; the film makes good use of its minimalistic music to play up scenes of suspense without going overboard. As its title suggest, there is very little dialogue and an awful lot of silence, which when used appropriately as it is here, is perfect for a horror movie. There’s just about nothing of a plot or character to speak of (at least until the end) but I almost feel like that would spoil some of the relative silence which the film does so well. The film does move rather quick and I was surprised it was already over when the credits began to roll which thankfully I watched my way since the movie apparently decided it wasn’t over in perhaps the longest post credits scene I’ve ever seen and one which completely changes the tone of the ending. In fact, if it wasn’t for the ending this would be one of the better horror films of the month, but the ending is just, not great though it doesn’t ruin what came before.

Month of Horror: World Edition
Bonus Episode #5 – United States: Silent House (2011)
Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau

Remaking a foreign language film in the English language is (though the US is hardly the only nation that does it so get off your high horse) probably Hollywood (and idiots who won’t watch a film with subtitles) at its most shameful especially when they do so within a decade of the original’s release.A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven at least had the dignity to change the setting and genre of their rip-off/remake, but horror films have a notorious tradition of doing little besides making it whiter and in English (and maybe dropping an article here and there) which aside from The Ring are just about always pale imitations of the far superior originals (that includes you too massively overqualified in talent and very overrated Let Me In). There are plenty of reasons to remake a film including dated special effects, poor original take (which will continue to annoy me when people complain about remakes of shitty films since those are the ones we should be redoing), or the opportunity to modernize or localize a powerful but very of its time film. Remaking a film and releasing it a year after its release is pretty damn ballsy though but it’s not like they chose some instant classic.

Watching these two so closely released films back to back feels oddly appropriate and this film does at least have the benefit of a director (Kentis) experienced in small cast horror (the well-received but disappointing to myself Open Water). While I’d love to take this film on its own merits, that’s impossible considering the circumstances and the fact that watching the remake just drew attention to the changes they made. Whether the remake takes longer to get going or not is hard to say but it certainly felt like it. There does seem to be a bit more of an attempt to create some character, it just sucks at it (which is always the risk one takes). The film is substantially less silent as the house gets rather noisy with the louder and more frequent talking and music that does less subtly building tension and more “ARE YOU SCARED YET? YOU SHOULD BE SCARED! WHY AREN’T YOU SCARED YET?” in the big moments though it retains the more subtle music during the interim.

The camera work, as befitting a larger budgeted American release, certainly looks better with less of the unnecessary visual flourishes though it does seem to have that HD thing of temporarily losing focus on certain camera moves and when it is asked to move too fast (though perhaps some of these were to obscure the fact that it was 12 minutes long scenes) and maintains the handheld unintentionally found footage invoking style. The camera work also subtly differentiates itself by focusing longer on things that it is afraid we will miss as if to say “LOOK OVER THERE AT THE CREEPY GIRL! MAKE SURE YOU DON’T MISS THAT CREEPY GIRL IN THE BACKGROUND!” While I can’t speak for all Americans, I do find myself able to observe items not foregrounded and it really robs some of the atmosphere. In fact the only time I had any issue in the original was with the scene lit by camera flashes and only because my light sensitive eyes do not care for sharp changes in light and took too long to adjust.

The film lucked into the casting of Elizabeth Olsen before she was any bit a known commodity and she does a great job with minimal (and minimal quality) material but even she can’t save what is virtually an identical movie until the final act where, just no. What was a lousy ending before, takes that, changes it up a bit and takes away any remaining subtly and blasts it away leaving it feel much more exploitative and explaining away too much. The film so desperately wants to be a mainstream horror title with its bleeding urinals, brighter lighting, and characters yelling the twist at each other and it doesn’t fit at all with what came before. Even more so than the original, the film just ends abruptly with no resolution. I feel it is probably important to discuss in depth the endings of both, but I just don’t want to think about the remake anymore. I know horror is supposed to frequently make you feel uncomfortable but this just did so in a way that left a bad taste in my mouth with its handling of SPOILERS the very sensitive issue of child molestation. I’m not saying a horror film shouldn’t deal with the subject or pull an original Nightmare on Elm Street and more obliquely refer to it while mostly forgetting it in sequels, but this certainly wasn’t it and might have been more awkwardly handled than the expanded attention the nonexistent remake of that film which certainly didn’t waste a just about perfectly cast Jackie Earle Haley did.

Up Next: Jon Wright’s Grabbers representing Ireland

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