The Silent House (2010)
By: Julian on April 13, 2011  | 
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English Dolby Digital 5.1 | 82 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Gustavo Hernández
Starring: Florencia Colucci, Abel Tripaldi, Gustavo Alonso
Screenplay: Oscar Estévez
Country: Uruguay
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Here's an interesting concept: a Uruguayan horror film that plays in real time and is shot in one continuous take (whether it really was or not, I'm not sure, but it certainly looks that way and that is how the movie has been marketed), featuring largely one character. As a zero-budget horror effort, The Silent House is a complete success: a creepy little number strengthened by a solid lead performance and some neat visual tricks.

Laura (Florencia Coluccci) and her father Wilson (Gustavo Alonso) have been sent to a small country cottage in order for Wilson to perform some repair works on it. They head up in the early evening, take the keys from the owner, and settle down to spend one night there before starting work in the morning. Things go bump in the night, and Wilson heads upstairs to check it out.

I've described the first seven or eight minutes of The Silent House, and it would be criminal to outline any more. Obviously, the things that go bump are far more sinister than that, and it is left up to Laura to discover the source of the noise and the sinister secrets housed within the four walls of the cottage.

Supposedly based on a true story that took place in Uruguay in the 1940s, The Silent House is a suspense masterclass. The handheld shooting style is nowhere near as invasive as some of its contemporaries (American examples Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project immediately spring to mind) and it sets the mood far better than what 'professional' (in the sense that the camera is steady and detached from the proceedings) cinematography would. The one-take gimmick was something that I was at once sceptical of, but my reservations were dispelled the second the horror was cranked up (about 10 minutes in). The cinematography works very, very well and abets the feeling of dread that pervades every aspect of this tight little film, from not long in to the moment the credits roll over an hour later. Because this is mainly centred on one character, there's very little dialogue, and director Gustavo Hernández is left to rely on beautifully successful visual elements to keep his film alive.

I've mentioned Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, and both films are comparable to The Silent House insofar as they are ambitious debuts for which the filmmakers take advantage of their financial constraints by doing something technically different. The Silent House clearly emerges above either of those films, as well as most of its other handheld, low-budget contemporaries. This is mainly because the horror begins almost from the word go, without a maddeningly long build-up (Paranormal) or a hum-ho, uninteresting climax (Project).

For a first time feature film director, Hernández does an admirable job. He keeps things tight and in constant movement; there isn't a moment to spare in this lithe film, and not a bit of flab weighs it down – while this is a very short film, the gimmick had the potential to wear thin fast, and it is to Hernández's great credit that the premise remains fresh. Set in one house, focussed on one character and with the camera not offering a moment of reprieve, this is a highly claustrophobic and technically successful genre offering, and a surprise highlight at the close of the noughties.

Two final things: stay tuned past the end credits, and keep an eye out for the inevitable American remake, due this year, with husband and wife team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau (Open Water) directing.
16:9. The film looks good, and I've spoken earlier about the quality of the handheld cinematography: it's not nauseating or pervasive. Very well done.
Two Spanish audio tracks, presented in 5.1 and DTS. The tracks are crisp and clear. The sound design is terrific: the non-diegetic sound is subtle, barely noticeable in fact, and it serves only to complement the diegetic 'bumps in the night'. Like the visuals, smart auditory tricks ably mask a low budget and makes The Silent House look and sound like (a few) million bucks.
Extra Features
Disappointingly, only an original trailer and other Madman trailers. When the remake comes out, this will undoubtedly be gifted the bells-and-whistles release it deserves.
The Verdict
I was very impressed by The Silent House. The handheld camerawork and the one-take gimmick put me offside before I saw a frame, but it gains unstoppable momentum very shortly after the opening credits. One of the best horror movies I've seen this year, and a highlight of the noughties. Seek this little-known gem out immediately.
Movie Score
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