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The Silent House -- Film Review

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CANNES -- As basic as its title, "The Silent House" is about as classic a horror film as you can get. A young woman and her father spend the night in a remote farmhouse, where a psychopath is on the loose. Shot with three actors and, hats off to Uruguayan director Gustavo Hernandez and his crew, in one single 78-minute take on an HD digital camera, the tension is nonstop. The drawback to this Elle Driver pickup is a one-note story line that is a little too simplistic and guessable for audiences weaned on the flamboyant modernity of Tarantino and sophistication of Amenabar, putting a certain cap on its commercial prospects.

Which is not to knock a meticulously crafted first feature, made on what must have been quite a minimal budget. Hernandez skillfully uses the horror genre to communicate a single emotion, fear, as realistically as possible. Enjoy it those who may.

A man and his late-teen daughter tramp through the fields to an abandoned country house, which the owner, Nestor, has commissioned them to get into shape before he puts it up for sale. They plan to set to work early in the morning. After her father has fallen asleep in a chair, Laura (Florencia Colucci) hears a loud noise coming from overhead. She forces him to investigate, disobeying Nestor�s orders not to go upstairs. A few thumps and bumps later, the father returns a bloody corpse, with his hands tied behind his back.

 

Thus begins a nightmarish night for Laura who, shaking with horror and fright, has to go upstairs to retrieve the key to the front door, her only way out of the murderous house. A hand-held camera follows her like a ill-intentioned shadow as she inspects each nook and cranny in search of the key. Young Colucci gives a tour-de-force, Actors Studio-y type of performance which tends to be very high-key but, given the fact there was no chance for retakes, is nonetheless nerve-wracking.

But a screaming, out-of-control girl doing all the most illogical things under emotional strain does not a modern heroine make, and as good as Colucci is at communicating raw fear, her character is just not very appealing. In another film, a wimp like Laura would be earmarked for grisly death in the first act. "The Silent House," however, is based on a real story from the 1940s (which explains the annoying absence of cell phones) and has another agenda. Laura's  behavior is ultimately explained in a plot twist that predates "Psycho," which most viewers will spot coming from a very long way off.

Pedro Luque's cinematography takes up the challenge of shooting in near-darkness, playing with that which can barely be perceived, shadowy mirrors, Polaroid instant photos. Also very effective is a restrained sound mix that throws in jarring noises and creepy children�s ditties at just the right time.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Directors' Fortnight
Sales: Elle Driver
Production company: Tokio Films
Cast: Florencia Colucci, Abel Tripaldi, Gustavo Alonso, Maria Salazar
Director: Gustavo Hernandez
Screenwriter: Oscar Estevez
Producer: Gustavo Rojo
Director of photography: Pedro Luque
Production designer: Federico Capra
Music: Hernan Gonzalez
Editor: Gustavo Hernandez
No rating, 78 minutes