The Silent House Review
Gustavo Hernández's Uruguayan debut, The Silent House, isn’t the first example of a film which adopts the high risk strategy of executing an entire feature length presentation via a purported single camera shot. Yet even though it joins the small and exclusive club of films which claim to have been executed with just such a modus operandi, it still proves extremely impressive stuff for a 78 minute film, and is all the more intriguing when you learn that this is a horror feature.
It must surely be a considerable challenge for any director to create a film of such length in a single shot, not least because of the logistical, technical, and practical difficulties surrounding the process. Yet what seems really daring is to film a horror movie in such a manner, where the requirement for pinpoint timing and the execution of well choreographed shocks is at a premium.
Throwing caution to the wind, director Gustavo Hernández delivers his Uruguayan production using just such a technique, and it initially proves a real distraction as your inquisitive mind is engulfed with questions. Just how did they film that section without stopping? How did the camera operator fit under that fence? How many times did they have to film central character Laura hopping into the car, looking into the rear view mirror, and seeing the two men perfectly framed inside it?
After the initial instinctive analysis of the technicalities behind the filming process begins to fade, you are anticipating little else other than tenuously linked imperfection and high levels of tedium as the filmmakers attempt to produce the requisite illusion using a stifling and limiting medium. Yet bizarrely, what opens as seemingly little more than an act of gimmickry, becomes a central driver in what is an extremely taut slice of claustrophobic horror. The gargantuan single shot tracks Laura’s short journey to a dishevelled and boarded up house in the countryside, where she meets up with her father and his friend (and owner of the property), Nestor, before spending some time exploring the house; well, the downstairs anyway, following a warning from Nestor that they must not go upstairs due to loose flooring. Laura and her father are there to start clearing the house, but it’s not too long before strange events start to occur. By this time, our focus has already shifted away from the technicalities of the filming, and our immersion in Laura’s experience is deep.
It would appear that the depth of our immersion into her experience is driven in no small part by the single shot filming. The method seems to lend the emerging terror an enormous sense of credibility and authenticity, and Laura’s perception of time, and of the unfolding events, is mirrored accurately in our own consciousness. We are virtually directly plugged into the fear, confusion, and terror that Laura experiences during each progressing minute, and the tension is unremittingly unbearable for almost the entire length of the film.
In fact, the only moment where the extreme compression of tension gains partial relief is towards the end, as the secrets of the plot begin to expose themselves, and it’s only then, during the last minutes, that our subconscious rests a little with a reminder that we are a viewer, and not trapped within events ourselves. The plot may prove problematic for some, yet with the purity of the horror, terror, and fear that comes before the plot revelation, it’s a small price to pay.
In many respects, Hernández’s directorial debut relies on the familiar trinkets of chilling horror, whether that’s the lo-fi radio music, abandoned dolls, or creaky floorboards. Yet with Florencia Colucci almost single-handedly carrying the highly stylish, highly choreographed horror for long periods of time with unwavering conviction, the $6000 production proves substantially superior to its infinitely more expensive competition. The Silent House frequently shocks, surprises, and amazes us with its unbearable tension and impressive set-pieces (the shots with the Polaroid camera are incredible), and with the assorted variables presenting challenges in the making of this horrific presentation, the final delivery is nothing short of remarkable.
As we’ve seen, The Silent House is filmed in a single shot, and as such you should be anticipating some variation in quality when compared to other movies, particularly those of a budget as low as this one. Yet despite this, the picture quality of this stylish presentation is excellent throughout. This is despite the fact that the movie is often dimly lit inside the dark, gloomy, boarded-up house. Yes, there are moments where we can see some anti-aliasing, and moments where the focus doesn’t present itself as sharply as one would normally expect, but even so, the picture quality is very strong. Colours in the house, whilst muted in the dim light, are still presented well, and the contrast with the darkness is effective, assisted by the satisfying solidity of the blacks. Any deficiency in visual presentation could have affected the power of the grip the movie exerts on your consciousness, but Optimum have performed well to ensure this doesn’t happen.
The Silent House is presented using 1080i resolution, using the MPEG-4 AVC compression codec. The presentation here uses the native aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The single Blu-ray disc is encoded for region B, and the main feature uses approximately 19.3Gb of the total 21.8Gb disc size.
Subtitles are available in both English and German, and the English subtitles proved accurate and clear. There are considerable lengths of film with no speech, which again highlights the quality of Florencia Colucci’s performance, and the effectiveness of the visual presentation.
There are trailers for And Soon the Darkness, Mother’s Day, and Dylan Dog: Dead of Night.
For such a low budget feature, audio is surprisingly well served. You can select Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, German Surround DTS-HD MA, or German 5.1 DTS-HD MA. You need to expect natural variations in levels as the drama progresses, yet there are never any issues with the sound quality or the clarity. The depth of the bass is similarly pleasing, and as the footsteps thud above Laura’s head, the movement of sounds across the soundstage feels suitably realistic and provides an effective aural accompaniment to the convincing visuals.
It’s something of a surprise and a disappointment to report that there are no extras here. It would certainly have been of immense interest to learn how Hernández and crew organised this logistical accomplishment.
If you classify a Trailer as an extra, then you will find that much to satisfy you here, but nothing more.
There are no extras to speak of, yet Hernández’s astonishing and daring Uruguayan debut is stunning not only for its technical achievement, but also for its ability to rack up an enormous amount of tension which should even rattle the more hardened of genre fans. Optimum have, as we’ve come to expect, handled the transfer very effectively, and as such this lightweight presentation still comes highly recommended, and an absolute must before the American clone, which is already in progress.