Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Silent House (2010)

Note: This review refers to the Spanish-language original ("La Casa Muda"), and not the American remake (why do Americans feel they have to remake every good foreign-language film that comes out?).

The Silent House is the scariest movie I've seen since Paranormal Activity. It hasn't got much in the way of an intriguing plot or characters, but strictly in terms of crafting a frightening atmosphere, it is extremely effective. The location, the filming style, and the music/sound effects all work together to create a frequently unsettling mood, and when the scares come, they are genuine. The director clearly understands that to make a person scared - in the true, goosebumps-all-over-your-body sense, and not just in the jump-out-of-your-seat sort of way - you don't just throw some danger at them, you have to take your time to put them in a suggestible frame of mind, and then feed them little tidbits that make them think, "that's not right..."

It's interesting to note that, while not actually being filmed from the 'found footage perspective', this film does have a lot in common with the found footage style. It even boasts having been shot in one continuous take, which gives it very much a 'following people around' cinema-verité sort of feeling. It's based on a true story (although I take that claim with a grain of salt these days), but the 'found footage' in this case is a stack of polaroids, so instead of getting to view the footage, you could essentially frame the movie as a dramatic reenactment of one person's possible interpretation of the allegedly true events. (Yeah...)

However, one significant criticism I have against this movie, as good a job as it does at being scary, is that its ending revelation is hugely disappointing. Obviously, I can't tell you why without giving away serious spoilers (that could significantly diminish your ability to appreciate the film's horror), so if you haven't seen it, you best skip the next several paragraphs.

Spoilers below!

The majority of the movie works because we sympathize with the main character - a vulnerable-looking girl caught up in this spooky house, who doesn't know what the hell is going on. Thus we can identify with her, and as she becomes scared and confused, we become scared and confused.

This works fantastically. But then the big revelation comes, and it turns out that the girl - who is mentally unstable - is the one responsible for everything going on. I'm not gonna nitpick about 'how could she kill her dad when we were there with her when her dad was killed in another room' because I'm willing to allow that her mental state could have produced that confusion.

While some might say it works as a satisfying twist - and certainly, I appreciate the psychological manipulation the director has used to paint the portrait of a terrified young woman, and then turn it upside-down to reveal that she's the life-threatening menace in both of these two older, stronger-looking men's lives - I was disappointed because it immediately deflates the atmosphere of terror that had been building up, and because the narrative point regarding her lost daughter is a little too cliché - and too little explained - and just not, for me, a very satisfying ending to a very terrifying movie.

I don't know how - if it's even possible - one would construct a more satisfying ending that doesn't so totally undermine the viewer's fear (although the obvious choice is to make it a haunted house and not try to be all 'original' by putting a down-to-earth twist on the story), but the fact remains, after such a tense journey, the destination was a bit of a letdown for me.

End spoilers!

Otherwise, though, the movie does such a fantastic job of creating a tense and scary atmosphere, that I recommend it wholeheartedly to true horror fans. Regardless of what you may or may not end up liking about it, if you're serious about horror, this one's worth a viewing.

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