Friday, 15 April 2011

The Silent House (2010)

THE SILENT HOUSE, or La Casa Muda, is a Uruguayan film that was directed by Gustavo Hernandez.  It premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival.  It stars Florencia Colucci as a young woman who is terrorised by unseen forces in an isolated and abandoned house.

There's been quite a lot of press coverage of this one, partly because it is reputed to be very frightening and partly because its USP is that the first 70 minutes is one continuous take.  "Terror in real time" is the tagline they are using to promote it.  Film critics tend to get very excited about such things because they are seen as feats of directorial ingenuity; they get to mention the beginning of TOUCH OF EVIL (1950) or the end of THE PASSENGER (1975) to show the depth of their film knowledge.

They are difficult to do, undoubtedly, because - I imagine - they require enormous organisation and attention to detail.  Everyone has to know exactly where to go and what to do, cast and crew.  One mistake and they have to reset everything and go again.  So much so that very few films use the extended or continuous take.  Hitchcock did ROPE (1948) in ten-minute takes but it's difficult to see what the advantage is, set against the extra trouble it causes.  I suppose the point is that the experience of watching it become more immersive; every time there is a cut or an edit in a film you must be aware, however subconsciously, that you're watching something artificial.  Take those edits away and you can believe that the ten-minute sequence you're watching is a recording of an actual ten-minute period in the film.

As far as I know, only one feature film has been made in a single continuous take: Aleksandr Sokurov's RUSSIAN ARK (2002).  Incredible achievement though it is, it's not strictly a narrative film; it's more a series of tableaux as a man wanders through the Hermitage in St Petersburg.  THE SILENT HOUSE, however, is a more conventionally narrative film.  So conventional in fact that were it not for the fact that it was shot in one continuous take there would be little else to recommend it.

I don't think it works, to be honest.  The problem is that it isn't consistent.  The camera is sometimes behind the actress, sometimes in front looking directly at her, and occasionally takes her subjective point-of-view.  Essentially, the director ties himself up in knots in maintaining the single take that he draws your attention away from the story - which is, in my view, the exact opposite of what that trick is supposed to do.  It does allow him to engineer a couple of pretty effective "Boo!" moments but you'd kind of expect a bit more than that, considering the trouble they went to.

There is a decent twist towards the end and you absolutely must keep watching through the credits and after because there is some very important footage which may, or may not, reveal all ...

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