Gimmick movies come in all shapes and sizes, and one of the newest types is the single-take feature. This used to be impossible due to camera and film limitations, but digital video has opened a whole new world to filmmakers looking to challenge themselves and reward audiences. Single-take films are exactly that, films shot entirely in one, continuous, uninterrupted take, and some recent examples include Russian Ark and PVC-1. (The British horror film Cut uses a single-take for all but its first five minutes.)
The latest film to earn as much attention for the technique as it does for the art is the Uruguayan horror movie The Silent House. It’s about a father and his teen daughter tasked with spending the night in a rural house that they’re cleaning up and repairing for rental. They settle in for the night, but when she hears noises upstairs he heads up to investigate, screams, and then falls silent. She goes in search of her father and soon discovers there are worse things than being an orphan…
“A story based on real events.”
The Silent House is reportedly based on a true story from the 1940s, but while the core of the story seems plausible the film layers in enough elements of a highly imaginative nature to warrant taking that opening text with a grain of Uruguayan salt. Laura wanders the house cautiously taking notice of shelves covered with animal skulls and a wall plastered with Polaroid pictures. She finds her father bound, bloodied, and unconscious, but also draws the attention of a mysterious man roaming the halls with a large knife. The bulk of the movie is her working her way throughout the house trying to stay one step ahead of him until she can escape.
And then there’s that little girl who seems to appear out of thin air.
This is a mildly effective horror thriller that manages to find a fair amount of tension from the simple concept of a scared young woman wandering a creepy as hell house in the dark. We’ve seen these scenes before… the screen lit solely by camera flashes, the figure behind her that only we can see, her hiding and halting her breath as the killer moves mere feet away. But even though they lack originality they’re still presented well enough to ratchet up the fear.
If only the character didn’t constantly leave her back exposed to rooms, doorways, and other dark cul de sacs. Over and over again. (Not that anything comes of it. (Or does it. (Boo!)))
And the single-take effort, while technically impressive, adds nothing to the experience aside from unavoidable downbeats in the suspense and action. Where a normal movie would move a character across space and time via cuts and edits here we have to watch Laura take each and every step. We know the bad guy won’t be popping out from every corner each and every time so these stretches lose some of the edge that’s been created previously.
And then there’s the third act revelations. Discussing them inches into spoiler territory, so suffice to say they pose some problems.
The Silent House features a handful of solid jump scares and eerie shots, but the single-take camera work and third act revelations unintentionally deflate much of the dread. Still, genre fans will want to give it a watch instead of waiting for the already filmed US remake.
The Silent House will be available On Demand starting May 11th.
The Upside: Some definite creepiness and effective jump scares
The Downside: Third act revelations leave much to be desired, not to mention several questions unanswered; single take means plenty of slowdowns while main character moves from point A to B