Horror is without doubt one of the most popular film genres – if not the most popular – in cinema history. The standard girl-in-peril plot has been tinkered with endlessly, and this is especially true of films in the last ten years. No doubt instigated by the Scream franchise, there’s been a real trend lately for the postmodern, innovative scary movie. But sometimes, the simplest tricks are the best ones – and that is well demonstrated by Uruguayan horror The Silent House. It sticks firmly to the oldest conventions in the book, knowing full well that, used in the right way, they do the job perfectly.
The film centres around Laura, a young woman who arrives at a rundown house with her father, the two having agreed to stay there while they renovate it on behalf of the owner. They both go straight to sleep, but soon Laura is woken by a strange rattle above – the owner having forbidden her to venture upstairs.
That’s basically it in terms of plot, and even then this already minimal setup is rushed through as fast as possible so that director Gustavo Hernández can get straight into the juicy stuff.
The action may take place in a stonewashed cottage rather than a sprawling gothic mansion, but the mood is nonetheless faultlessly spooky. It’s a convenient feature of the house that there’s no electricity, thus necessitating a stark hand-held lamplight that serves only to point to the creepiest, darkest and most hidden corners of the house. What little light there is becomes washed in the lamp’s menacing bluish tinge.
Ostensibly filmed in a single shot (which, like the based-on-a-true-story tagline is a somewhat dubious claim), we follow every minute of Laura’s terror as she hears odd noises and sees weird shadows moving around her. We’ve seen all this a hundred times before: Hernández uses old-hat techniques like mirrors, offscreen swishes and even children singing, which is a touch so cliched that it has almost become a satirical joke of the genre. Yet The Silent House nonetheless manages to overcome the dusty tradition of these staples; it’s effective, engrossing and really, really scary.
This is the kind of film you have to pay close attention to. Not because it’s complicated; the storyline is as basic as they come. But the atmosphere is so unsettling, and the tension so admirably taut, that you really can’t afford to break your focus for a second. Which is no hardship, because The Silent House is utterly absorbing (and only 82 minutes long).
Of course, this should all point to a ten-star review. And based purely on the first hour, it does. Unfortunately, however, the film is badly let down by a disappointing finish, which spectacularly fails to match the effective chills elsewhere. Admittedly, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess the ending – but that’s largely because it makes almost no sense. To elaborate any further on this would be to give away the big final revelation – but trust us, it’s a letdown.
It’s a pity to see The Silent House ultimately descend into silliness, because elsewhere in his debut feature Hernández demonstrates real talent as a filmmaker. He’s clearly done his research and knows extremely well how the best horror films work. It’s just a shame that this film missed being admitted into that category by such a narrow margin.
Other than a trailer for the movie, the DVD contains no special features.
The Silent House is out on DVD and blu-ray 1st August 2011.
Director: Gustavo Hernández
Stars: Florencia Colucci, Abel Tripaldi, Gustavo Alonso
Runtime: 86 min