What the Hell is Going On In ‘The Silent House’?


Florencia Colucci in The Silent House
Photo: IFC Films

Before you start reading this, just know I am talking about the Spanish-language original and not the American remake starring Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) that hits theaters on March 9.

Also, this article is filled with spoilers for the original film, which I watched as the result of a scheduling issue that caused me to miss a screening of the remake. Having missed that screening, I decided to watch a year-old screener of Gustavo Hernandez‘s 2010 original, which earned a lot of attention when it was released, primarily due to the fact it was supposedly shot in one, long 86-minute take.

The Silent House begins with a girl — presumably around the age of 21 or so — named Laura (Florencia Colucci), walking through a field with her father to what appears to be an abandoned house. They wait for the owner, Nestor, to arrive and let them in so they can begin restoring the house for sale.

At this point in the film I’m fine, though a bit wary. I’m a bit concerned as to why they walked through the field to get to the house instead of driving and where they came from in the first place. Moving on…

Then Nestor arrives, and through his conversation with Laura’s father I got the impression Nestor has never met her, or at least they aren’t closely acquainted. Laura walks over, Nestor kisses her on the cheek “hello” and she then, oddly, begins snooping around his truck and is fascinated by the rosary hanging from his rear-view mirror. We hear Nestor say something about “memories” having to do with the house and then then they head inside.

After Nestor shows them around a bit, he leaves and Laura and her father decide to go to sleep. Why they showed up so late only to go to sleep is unknown. Why not show up the next morning? Where do they live? Why did they walk to the house through a field? Where were they coming from?

As her father falls asleep, Laura begins hearing noises upstairs and convinces her father to check them out. Unfortunately for him, the next time we see him he is dead, bleeding from the mouth with his hands tied. What the hell happened and why is Laura only concerned for a matter of minutes?

As the film progresses Nestor eventually ends up dead, Laura sees a guy chasing her, there’s also a ghostly little girl that clearly doesn’t exist and the only logical explanation I can come up with is that the whole thing is meant to be a dream, or a psychotic vision, but even that doesn’t hold water.

The idea that it was all some sort of psychotic dream goes out the window when we’re told at the end that the mutilated bodies of Nestor and Laura’s father were found six days after the events we watched but that Laura was never found. This would at least imply both men were killed and were very much real. Nestor we know was killed by Laura, but as for her father we have no clue.

After the first batch of credits, we see Laura hugging what we presume to be her daughter, whom I am pretty sure we were led to believe was never born due to an abortion after Nestor raped and molested her. This, however, ends up being Laura’s only obvious hallucination as we see her seconds later holding a teddy bear and walking off, alone into the unknown. Huh?

So, what happened? Are you telling me we actually did just watch Laura kill her father and Nestor? Did she have an accomplice? What did Laura see in that photo album at the beginning? How did she kill her father from downstairs when he went upstairs and was attacked? And what about the pictures, which are clearly real since we see her burning them at the end? Was that her in the pictures? Is her daughter a ghost that haunts her? Is this an incident she continues to re-live from some sort of psych ward? If so, why would the end credits tell us she was never found?

What’s also frustrating is the filmmaking style. A big deal was made about how this film was shot in one continuous take, but it ends up entirely unimportant, it’s a gimmick like 3-D, it doesn’t matter… the point is it’s portrayed in real-time so let’s go with it…

What is important is to ask what exactly the camera is doing there and what is it supposed to represent? Is it supposed to be us the viewer? Is it supposed to present a first person account in that we’re following Laura’s point of view? Is it just supposed to be a never-seen, third party observer? What?

To answer those questions I think a resounding “No” to all of them is appropriate. Oftentimes the camera will follow Laura’s eye movement, looking right and left, searching for whatever the hell it is she’s looking for from one moment to the next. In another scene it’s on its own, looking around, reacting to whatever has happened. And in another instance we’re looking through Nestor’s eyes. It is so disorienting it’s impossible to understand why these decisions were made. And what is with all the mirror shots?

I love it when filmmakers use mirrors to shoot their scenes (go watch Alains Renais’ Last Year at Marienbad for a prime example of reflective brilliance), but here it comes off as merely an attempt at being cool. Leave it alone, scrap all the filmmaking trickery and tell me what the hell is going on!

Was Laura molested by her father and Nestor? When? Recently? Is that her in those pictures or someone else? Did she really have a daughter or is that in her imagination also? If she was molested in this actual house why was she brought back here? Ugh, it’s so frustrating!

From Laura’s curious searching to her seeming dismissal of her father’s demise this film makes no sense. On top of everything else we’re told it’s based on true events. in fact, here’s the synopsis:

Based on a true story that happened in the late ’40s in a small village in Uruguay. Filmed in one single continuous shot of seventy eight minutes, La Casa Muda focuses on Laura, who, second by second, intends to leave a house which hides an obscure secret, unharmed. The Silent House is a different independent film in its genre, filmed with a digital camera in one single shot, without any cuts and in real time. It’s the first horror film in the world that discovers fear without tricks in one sequence of 78 minutes. It’s also the first feature film that was completely filmed with the digital camera Canon Mark II. This camera offers extraordinary possibilities as it can shoot in high definition real full HD video, it transcends the limits of photography.

What true story this is based on I don’t think anyone knows and how it could possibly relate to what is going on in this film I’m unsure. Maybe there’s an easy explanation to all of this, but I would like to think I have thought out most of it and I can’t for the life of me figure it out.

As a result, I am strangely more interested in seeing the remake now more than ever just to see if they can present a clearer picture.

The new film is directed by Open Water directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau and, as I said, stars Elizabeth Olsen. Here’s a look at the trailer. I’ll be seeing it myself in a couple weeks and hopefully I can finally come up with some answers to my questions.