Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Silent House (2011)

Spoiler warning: This review contains massive spoilers for both this movie and the Spanish-language original that it was based on.

So, take a movie with a subtle plot about a young woman who may have had a romantic relationship with an older man, resulting in a pregnancy that didn't go well (for one reason or another), and put its domesticated remake (because Americans just hate reading subtitles) into the hands of a proud American team of filmmakers, and what do you get? A heavy-handed and highly stereotypical revenge fantasy about a young woman whose angel of lost innocence goads her into reaping murderous vengeance against her dirty uncle and perverted daddy who did nasty things to her when she was a little girl (that she doesn't remember, but screwed up her life just the same). Typical American obsession... Either this story resonates with a lot of Americans' life histories, or a lot of them find it to be an intriguing fantasy (I don't know what they find more exciting - the notion of children being violated sexually, or the fact that it gives them a legitimate excuse to commit violence against their fellow human beings). Neither case is very comforting.

Comparisons with the original:

* The basement in the remake is pretty creepy, but otherwise, the house is not nearly as dark or decrepit (and thus, scary) as the house in the original.

* On the other hand, I liked the motif of the mold infecting/rotting the house. Very Silent Hillish.

* As I said, the remake switches out the main character's anger over losing her daughter for a contrived plot about repressed childhood abuse. This could have effectively ramped up the horror (if it weren't so cliché), but is undermined by the film's attempt to associate photographing a pretty little girl in a tutu with extreme violation and loss of innocence. There are other things that could have been taking place on that pool table that would have better set up the plot, rather than offensively reinforcing the fear of 'the male gaze' as a weapon of rapacious intent.

But alas, the delusional minds that profess that rape is a worse fate than murder would be all too thrilled to have you believing that getting your picture taken is even worse than that. So if someone snaps a polaroid of you half-dressed, that's worse than being stabbed to death. Personally, I wouldn't trust anyone who fears semen more than blood. The way I see it, life is created when semen flows. But when blood flows, life is destroyed...

* Following on that plot point, the girl ghost that was the missing daughter in the original is reinterpreted as the main character's younger self (which works effectively as a memory device)/manifestation of lost innocence (which is much less effective and comes off as being really contrived). The result is a much less scary/unnerving apparition (despite the torture she represents being a victim of).

* Also in line with those points, this movie appropriately demonstrates the importance of hiding the photo evidence! Because showing photos that sufficiently demonstrate our fears would get the filmmakers in a lot of hot water, and showing photos that don't undermines their terror value as a narrative tool. I actually appreciated the original version for actually lingering on the photos and showing them off clearly, instead of keeping them under wraps, as is all too often (and obviously) the case, and letting the audience use their imagination. But as a result, the photos - ambiguous as they are - kind of undermine the revelation I think we're supposed to get from them.

This is an apt demonstration of the problem that self-censorship imposes, when we have to tiptoe around the subjects we intend to address. Not that subtlety and suggestion aren't effective narrative tools, but in this case, the story is so overwrought and has become so convoluted that a nice straightforward approach is necessary if you want to tell a convincing tale. Otherwise, it runs the serious risk of falling into hollow cliché, as it does here.

* While the three characters were a lot more conversational and amiable in the remake's opening scenes - which sort of facilitates this version's movement from "everything's cool" to "everything's fucked", as opposed to the original which starts out, socially, just as uncomfortably as it ends - the acting leaves something to be desired, and the creepy tones to the characters come off more cringe-worthy than shudder-worthy, which should have been the intent.

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