The Silent House (La Casa Muda) is defined by a two-fold gimmick: that the events of the film were inspired by real events, and that the entire film is taking place in one continuous take. The former claim is about as sturdy as that of any other horror movie ripped from the headlines, while the latter assertion is tougher to call. There are certainly portions of darkness during which the seams could be easily hidden, and one wouldn’t believe that director Gustavo Hernández would need an editing credit if no actual editing took place.
Regardless, the real-time element ultimately works, as Laura (Florencia Colucci) makes her way to and through a dusty old house that she and her father (Gustavo Alonso) intend to tidy up starting bright and early the following morning. She’s warned against going upstairs by owner Nestor (Abel Tripaldi), but once dear old Dad goes up to investigate the mysterious noises that have awoken our young lead in the middle of the night, she’s forced to venture to the second floor herself…
Hernández strikes a nice balance between jolts and quiet, spaces and shadows as Laura, armed with a lantern and a scythe, explores the titular abode. The looming camera rarely draws attention to itself, although the director’s fondness for compensating for tight angles with well-placed mirrors is a bit showy. As a strictly technical feat, one-shot or not, it’s awfully impressive, and even more so considering the low budget.
More importantly, the mood is there, beyond a certain level of simply watching someone else go through a haunted house. For the first hour, Casa is reminiscent of the breathless right-behind-you tension of Ils (Them), full of playful reveals and made all the eerier by Hernán González’s classically ominous score. There is even a familiar but effective camera-flash sequence a la Rear Window or Saw. Although seemingly little is asked of Colucci beyond peering and panting, she holds her own in every scene, and once the film reaches its inevitably underwhelming conclusion, her performance actually grows a bit more interesting for it.
Laura bears a fitting resemblance to the wife beater-wearing, blood-splattered brunette leads of [REC] and Quarantine, its American version. Casa already has its own stateside remake, which Eric enjoyed at Sundance, and it has already earned some of the slow-burn, low-logic complaints of its predecessor. While the explanation does deflate the experience a bit, and while a prolonged post-credits epilogue feels like padding to reach feature length above all else, most of La Casa Muda is more tense than its haunted-house contemporaries can claim to be.
The Silent House (La Casa Muda) is currently in limited release and will be available through IFC On Demand starting May 11.