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February 9, 2014

La casa muda

by Franz Patrick


Casa muda, La (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Laura (Florencia Colucci) and Wilson (Gustavo Alonso) are hired by Néstor (Abel Tripaldi) to clean up an abandoned house so it can be up for sale. Before Néstor leaves to get some food, he warns the father and daughter not to go upstairs because it can be dangerous. He suggests it is best to wait till morning when there is more light. Remaining on the first floor, Wilson has no trouble sleeping. Laura, on the other hand, keeps hearing noises upstairs which suggest they are not alone.

Supposedly based on a true story, “La casa muda,” directed by Gustavo Hernández, is a slow burn of a horror cinéma vérité, punctuated by occasional jump-out-of-your-seat moments, but it is missing a third act. It gives the impression that the filmmakers do not know or do not have the energy to bother to close the story in such a way that it respects its characters as well as its audience. Just because there is a footnote claiming that the story is based on a real event, dangling us mid-air and leaving us without a sense of completion is act of insulting the audience’s intelligence and time.

The filmmakers do a mediocre job in building the rising action. The house is genuinely creepy, nicely coupled with a lack of dialogue. Because there is barely any words for our ears, our eyes are forced to look more meticulously. When Laura explores the place, she notices animal bones being displayed on a shelf. Another room contains paintings of people with no faces. The source of light she holds highlights the dust in the air. It really feels like she is in a house that has not been touched for years.

And yet as the main character moves around the house, the film fails to give us a juxtaposition of the rooms relative to each other. I cannot remember how many rooms there are upstairs or downstairs. I do not even remember seeing a kitchen. I think the problem is this: after the protagonist encounters a scary thing, she runs to the next room while the camera experiences a seizure. She rarely goes back to a room she has been before. It might have made more sense if she ran all over the place because she is essentially locked inside the creepy house. If she did not, she would run out of rooms to run toward.

Furthermore, I did not completely buy into Colucci’s acting. Although she tries really hard to look scared, I was not genuinely concerned for her character. The weakest moments are times when Laura looks directly into camera and starts whimpering and crying out of fear. These took me out of the moment because, in a way, I felt as if I was watching a performance—a sense of “Am I doing this right?” and “Am I emoting enough?”—as opposed to something that is real, especially considering the film’s gimmick involving a supposedly uninterrupted single take.

“The Silent House,” based on the screenplay by Oscar Estévez, is an exercise of style over substance. Laura encounters childhood knick-knacks like dolls and a stroller full of pictures. Then she begins to see a child, a little girl that disappears the moment Laura looks away. While the final few minutes hints at how they are connected, we still have a handful of unanswered questions with no chance of being answered because the filmmakers have led us to a dead end.

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