Gimmicky but effective horror - with or without the "The."
, 04 Sep 2013
Remade a year later in the US with rising star Elizabeth Olsen in the lead, The Silent House is a Uruguayan horror supposedly shot in one single take. I say 'supposedly', because in an interview with a British film magazine a journalist asked the director point blank 'is this REALLY one continuous shot from start to finish?', and his response was so carefully worded that the interviewer remained suspicious. But even if there is some technical sleight-of-hand, the edits are so expertly hidden that you have to take your hat off to the filmmakers. Taking their claims at face value, what does the single-take gimmick add to the story that a traditional approach would not? Well, laboriously following every prosaic action from A to Z without cutting the shoe-leather certainly is an effective way to pad out what is essentially a 30 minute short to feature length. A less cynical view would be that it really emphasises the fact that what we're seeing is playing out in real-time. Not to mention the power of the gimmick as a marketing hook; it's certainly the reason I wanted to watch it, if I'm honest. But what you really want to know is, is it scary? And which is better, the original or the American remake? The answer to the first is undoubtedly yes; I jumped three or four times and frequently had goosebumps, which I think is a fair yardstick for judging a fright flick's quality. The second question is a little less straightforward. Which is better? They're so similar narratively that I suspect whichever one you see first will seem scarier - you'll be expecting the shocks and know the big reveal (which is slightly different, but has the same impact). But if you've read any of the other reviews you'll know that the opening act of the original is deathly dull. Even if you're not the kind of A. D. D.-addled 12 year-old second-screen addict, you're likely to find yourself checking your watch frequently for the first fifteen minutes until the initial odd noise kicks in on the soundtrack. The remake 'fixes' this with the smart addition of a new character, much more dialogue and, to be frank, much better actors. (This is probably the only time in her career when an actress as classy as Olsen will agree to don a skimpy under-shirt and run around a spooky house screaming.) But these amendments present problems of their own; a creepy smirk from the dad, instances of characters hurriedly hiding Polaroids from view and a seemingly random line about holes in her memory tip off the viewer early on that this is not the kind of haunted house/home invasion movie it at first appears to be. The remake is an indie movie and doesn't have a 'Hollywood sheen', but the camerawork is far more polished and professional. It's therefore an easier watch. But it's also less inventive (look out for a neat moment in the Uruguayan original where the objective camera seamlessly switches to the P. O. V. of a soon-to-expire character, complete with a fading in and out effect to mimic eyelids opening and closing). The grimy, amateurish shakiness of the cinematography gives the film the feel of events being recorded via cameraphone/camcorder (although it isn't a found-footage movie) and the overall grimness and seediness of the house (which is far less grand in scope than its US counterpart) somehow just makes everything far more unsettling. Another black mark against the remake is the change to the final twist; it works, but we get there via some pretty ripe surreal imagery which, when you know what's coming, is as subtle and symbolic as a train entering a tunnel or a rocket taking off during a sex scene. Fortunately, you don't have to take my word for it. At the time of writing, both films are available for streaming on Lovefilm Instant, and as they are equally brief (less than 80 minutes without credits - although be sure to stick around for a creepy little coda halfway through the end credits of the original) you can watch both back-to-back in a single sitting and draw your own conclusions. Neither film is likely to make your list of all-time favourites, but they're an interesting enough technical exercise to be worth a couple of hours or so of your time. For best results, watch late at night, on your own, with the lights turned off...
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