Silent House (2011): All the Subtilty of a Brick


I only just watched the original version of this film the other day. A Spanish Uruguayan film shot on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, it had the distinction of being the first horror film to be filmed on a professional photographic camera. It was also touted as being a ‘continuous’ take film for the 88 minute duration of the movie. It has been pointed out that this is not possible as the camera has a 15 minute limit on filming.

Despite these claims and counterclaims on the continuity of the filming process, the original La Casa Muda was a brilliant little low-budget film that delivered more than adequately. Unfortunately despite an increased budget and a ‘name’ star (Elizabeth Olsen) the remake has lost a great deal in translation. The original has a subtile style while the remake is as subtile as getting hit in the face by a brick.

Directed by Chris KentisLaura Lau from a screenplay adapted from watching the original film, versus reading the screenplay, by Laura Lau this adaptation of the superior original has lost all the subtle nuances and the surprise ending of the first film.

The plots start off virtually the same. A young girl and her father are asked by her uncle to help clean the family summer home for re-sale. That is the only part of the film that stays the same. From the moment they step into the house, new elements are included in the film.

A sort of toxic (?) mold is found in the kitchen and it is assumed by the uncle and the father that it has spread throughout the house. Daddy tells Sarah (Olsen) to stay well back so that she does not breathe in any of the spores. I don’t know whether this was an attempt to introduce another plot device into the story. It did have the feel of a possible explanation of what happens next.

It was a complete waste of time.

While dad and uncle are searching for mold in the rest of the house, Sarah hears a knocking on the front door. She opens it and sees a girl of her own age on the porch. The girl is Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) and she rushes to hug Sarah and tells her how much she has missed her. After Sarah reveals that she doesn’t really remember Sophia that well, Sophia makes a ‘date’ to come over later and reminisce.

Sarah’s uncle goes into town for more tools leaving her and dad to start cleaning the house. Sarah hears a noise upstairs and dad volunteers to investigate. Sarah joins him and they go through the first floor together. In one room there are a few Polaroid instant photographs that dad hurriedly stuffs into his pockets. When Sarah asks about them he says they are of the mold damage.

Almost from the first frame, the directors have chosen to play the child abuse and incest card. Even before the scenes where Sarah has ‘flashbacks’ to events from her childhood, they have signposts the way.

The fact that the two male figures bring in the Polaroid Instamatic instead of it being found (as in the original film) combined with all the   Polaroid photo’s lying around and that both the men can’t hide them quick enough when they have been found just screams ‘naughty’ pictures.

When we finally get to the part where Sarah starts remembering what happened to her in the house at the hands of her dad and uncle  it is absolutely no surprise. It’s been signposted way too well. In the original film it was one hell of a shock. Well, to me anyway. I did not see it coming until the character found it out herself at the end of the film.

Another major complaint with the re-make is the quality of the film. It was publicized that the re-made version was using the exact same filming equipment that was used on the original. Kudos points for them for experimenting with the digital medium. But, the new film has nowhere near the crisp quality of the original.

The film is blurry and feels so out of focus that I began to wish for glasses one third of the way in. Sure it helped to make the movie a bit more disturbing, but honestly, an elephant could have been stalking Olsen around the house and you would not have been able to see it. And I was watching a Blu-ray copy.

For all the speed that went into getting the re-make done and distributed, I really expected a better film. It was, in my honest opinion, a true waste of Elizabeth Olsen’s talent and almost an insult to the original, more superior film.

I would highly recommend seeing the original The Silent House and bypassing the remake. Unless of course you are a huge Olsen fan and you can’t bear to miss a film she’s in.

I can only despair over the amount of HD film cards that had to give their lives for this project.

English: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Can...
English: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens (fitted with a B+W 010 UV-Haze 58mm filter). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Silent House (2010): The Little Film that Could

We watched this the other night out of curiosity. The film itself is a bit of a ‘one-off’ in that the director and producers claim that the film was made in a continuous take of 88 minutes. However if you look at the equipment that they used, a Canon EOS 5D Mark II which can only film up to fifteen minutes of continuous footage, it does bring a bit of doubt to the producers veracity.  I’m not doubting the producers intent though. Like most digital photographic cameras, there are ways to bypass the 15 minute limitation, not least of which is just having enough memory cards or disks to pop in after you’ve filled up the current one.

I have noticed a certain amount of snobbery and downright aggression against the ‘continuous’ claim and I can’t really understand it. The film is the first ‘horror film‘ to use a professional photographic camera to shoot the entire movie and despite claims and counter claims to the contrary, is the first to use a continuous take approach. All this means is that the film has a ‘real-time’ feel to it and that this enhances the tension we, the audience, feel while watching it.

Considering that the films total budget was in the region of seven thousand dollars, this is not a film to be scoffed at. It delivers well enough and the effects, though minimal, work well enough. In fact the film delivers well enough that before the digital dust had settled on it’s world premier, a Hollywood re-make with Elizabeth Olsen was in the works. So the film makers must have done something right.

Directed by Gustavo Hernández (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar Estévez and Gustavo Rojo) The Silent House is based upon ‘true events that occurred in Uruguay in the 1940’s. If you Google this long enough, you’ll eventually find an oblique reference to the discovery of two horribly mutilated corpses that were found in a semi-derelict house in the country.  That’s all you will find. Still it was this story that provided the kernel of the film and it’s plot.

The film has a cosy feel to it cast wise as there are only really three players in the film.  Florencia Colucci as LauraGustavo Alonso as Wilson (Laura’s pop) and Abel Tripaldi as Nestor. There is another actor in the film, but as they only show up briefly towards the end, I don’t really count them as part of the main cast.

Nestor has employed Wilson and Laura to ‘clear up’ an old farmhouse that he owns. He wants to sell the old place but realizes his chances of doing so are pretty poor with the property in its current state. He shows Wilson and Laura what he wants done and before he leaves he tells the both of them to stay on the ground floor. The top floor of the two story property is unsafe with loose tiles and floorboards.

As it is quite late in the day, Wilson and Laura decide to sleep before starting their work in the morning. Literally seconds after Wilson enters the land of Nod, Laura begins to hear noises from the floor above them. After finally waking Wilson, who appears to have the ability to sleep through a major world war, Laura tells him that someone has entered the house and is moving around the top floor. He agrees to investigate, but before he goes he tells Laura that he expects her to be asleep when he returns.

As he heads up the stairs, Laura waits anxiously. We hear a scream and a thud and it appears that Wilson has encountered something bad. The film then spends a good portion of time building suspense and throwing in the odd ‘timely’ scare.

I won’t lie to you here. I don’t really see what was so great about the film that it warranted an almost instantaneous Hollywood re-make. On a scale of movie making where a score of 1 equals unimaginative and 10 equals revolutionary breathtaking originality. I’d have to place The Silent House around the region of 6 or maybe at a push 7.

Of course I don’t make films for a living, I just enjoy watching them and then talking about them. Perhaps the producers of the re-make (already out there by the way re-titled somewhat imaginatively as Silent House) saw what having a larger budget and a better known cast could do with this interesting little film. Who knows?

Still just in the area of the new digital trend in the movie making business the film hits a few resounding notes. The entire film was (regardless of whether it was done in continuous takes or not) shot with a professional photographic camera. It was shot as continuous as possible (taking into account the technical restraints of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II) and it did so on a budget so small that the phrase ‘shoestring’ budget seems almost too grandiose a term.

I would recommend seeing it, especially if you haven’t seen the re-make yet. It is always interesting to see the original films before Hollywood gets hold of them and ‘jazzes them up.’ It is also worth a look just by benefit of budget alone. When someone can make a movie for less than it costs to buy a used car, that sort of ingenuity is worth a look or two.

Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D (Photo credit: Wikipedia)