The Silent House (La Casa Muda) (2010)

My wife is awesome.

I love spooky movies filled with big, nasty scares and blood-chilling shocks, even though I literally tremble with dread every time I know one is coming. Startling us is one of the few ways external stimuli can reliably override our intellectual responses and force us to react in a certain way. Being scared is like being briefly in the power of a terrible magic, made pleasurable only because you know it will soon pass. I do everything I can to maximize the impact of scary movies. I always try to watch them alone, at night, and with the lights off. A drink or two doesn’t hurt.

Last night, after a long day of slaving over a hot keyboard – for YOU – I sat down to watch The Silent House a/k/a La Casa Muda. The fam was asleep so it was just me, a bunch of Uruguayan filmmakers, and whatever otherworldly presence was putting all the muda in that casa. I was halfway through a decently frightening little movie when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a laundry basket – in my own living room – was moving. I turned to look just as the basket lurched forward. Behind it, staring back at me, was a pair of eyes, wide with glee. For the briefest instant my stomach dropped. I wagged my finger at my wife and chided, “Not cool.” Now, this happened during a relatively tranquil part of the movie so I wasn’t terribly keyed up. But even so I wasn’t in control enough to calmly cock an eyebrow in that “nice try” gesture. I was caught off guard and I was scared. Even if it was only for a second, that was pretty cool.

The adjective muda means “mute” in Spanish. But muda is also a noun that means “a change”. Probably not significant. Forget I mentioned it.

The story: The Silent House starts off with a tepid attempt to convince us it’s based on a true story. Whether it is or not doesn’t really add or detract from the story, but maybe they just got The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Uruguay so we’ll let it slide. Young Laura and her dad arrive at a rundown country cottage to await the house’s owner, who’s paying them to clean the place up so he can sell it. It’s close to dusk when they get there so father and daughter plan to spend the night and start work early in the morning. After some instructions, their employer leaves them to it. But barely a minute passes before Laura starts hearing strange noises from the second floor. She pesters her dad until he finally agrees to go check it out. Whoops.

This house is quiet. Too quiet.

Biggest letdown: A big problem with this movie is that, because everything is so minimalist and there are so few characters, most of the scenes involve some variation of Laura wandering through the house, examining knickknacks and pulling dust covers off things. Discovering what secrets the house may hide is all well and good, and a little of that is necessary if the movie is to have any narrative beyond freaky shit happening in the dark. But it becomes difficult to sustain the requisite level of anxiety through scene after scene of a girl with a lantern walking from one room to another. There are several times where it’s possible to space out for literally minutes on end while waiting for the next sound in the darkness or hint of motion behind a curtain.

Hey, no reading on the job!

Two other very minor things bothered me ever so slightly. Some time after crazy shit starts going down on the second floor, Laura is reminded that the owner told them never to go up there. My memory isn’t what it once was (and it wasn’t very good to begin with) but I don’t think that actually happened. Also, why are there crickets chirping the whole time and why are Laura and her pops getting ready for bed when sunlight is still pouring through the boarded-up windows? In fact, they settle in for the night immediately after the owner promises to come back with dinner. Are they taking a midday siesta? If so, why the fuck doesn’t she pull open the blinds so she doesn’t have to walk around in total darkness? I suppose some of that uncertainty contributes to the surrealistic feel of the film, but mostly I felt like either I missed something or the subtitles were very, very sloppy. My money is on the latter because I am PERFECT.

Also, if you could spray some insecticide, we’ve got a serious cricket problem in here.

Why you should watch: If you’ve heard of this movie (or the recent American remake) you may know it’s shot in a single-camera format, supposedly with up to 78 minutes worth being done in one unbroken take. Possibly that’s true, but it certainly wouldn’t have been necessary. There are any number of blackouts – some a heartbeat in duration, others lasting much longer – in which cuts could occur. Either way though, there’s no denying huge swaths of this movie are done in long takes, in which the camera operator must engage in a deft ballet with Laura as she tiptoes through narrow corridors. The rehearsal time needed and the frustration of resetting every time someone missed a mark (easy to do when the set has no electricity) are mind-boggling. The downside to that impressive technical feat is the audience never really forgets the cameraman is in the room. Laura might be hiding from danger in a closet, but you feel like she’s completely exposed because the cameraman’s ass would be jutting way out into the hallway. On the other hand, this experiment does yield some truly interesting perspectives. As the camera switches from trailing Laura to preceding her up the stairs, it transforms from the heroine’s point of view into the looming source of her fear. It allows for some really neat possibilities. Even if those aren’t ever fully explored, it’s a heady accomplishment.

Maybe I’ll just go outside and start on the yard?

Memorable Moment: An old Polaroid camera comes into play in a fairly spectacular scene late in the film, but I like an earlier bit when Laura first discovers it and accidentally flashes herself in the face. As the picture ejects, you know exactly what to expect: the camera will wheel around to watch the photo develop, revealing, to Laura’s horror, a figure standing RIGHT BEHIND HER. Only that doesn’t happen. The camera barely pays attention to the picture at all before Laura drops it and leaves the room. But if you look closely, knowledgeable viewer that you are, you can just make out a glimmer of white in the corner of the snapshot. Now what might that be?

Choice quote: “Okay, here’s what we’ll do: I’ll go and have a look upstairs. But when I come down, I want you to be asleep, okay?” For real! It’s nearly 5:30, young lady.

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4 Responses to “The Silent House (La Casa Muda) (2010)”

  1. robertsoup Says:

    This sounds like just my cup of weird tea.

  2. […] The Silent House (La Casa Muda) – At La Casa, La Casa Muda… […]

  3. […] The Silent House (La Casa Muda) […]

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