Thursday, March 8, 2012

La Casa Muda: No Relief

When was the last time you were really scared during a movie? Not just responding to what was on the screen, but actually honest-to-goodness oh-shit-I-can't-look-tell-me-when-it's-over scared. I think that as we get older, it gets harder and harder to get to that place. Not to be scared necessarily, that's still certainly possible, but that sort of tense scared that demands catharsis, something bad happening to allow us to let it all out. It's that feeling right before the protagonist opens that door they shouldn't, or the camera panning around to a view behind someone where we just know something horrible will be waiting. You're being drawn tighter and tighter, and something will have to give.

La Casa Muda (The Silent House) is, like, an hour straight of nothing but that.

No lie, it took me three tries to get through the whole movie because I kept getting all freaked out and tense, waiting for something horrible to happen. It's that kind of scary.

The setup is minimal. All we know is that Laura is going with her father to clean out a family cottage to prepare it for sale. It's her, her father, and her uncle Nestor. The house has been closed up for years, and it's dusty and full of junk. We don't really know anything else about them, their conversations are sparse and functional. Nestor goes back into town, and Laura and her father set up some lanterns, light some candles, and lie down to catch a nap before Nestor gets back. Laura wakes up to the sound of someone moving around upstairs. Dad says there's nothing there, they're alone in the house. And then the noises start up again. Laura stays put as Dad goes to investigate.

The next thing Laura hears is her father cry out, then a heavy thump. He doesn't come back downstairs.

Everything forward of this is as spare as what came before, and wound tighter than a watchspring. Laura makes her way through the dimly lit house, aided only by a lantern or a flashlight or, occasionally, the bursts of illumination given off by the flash of a Polaroid camera she finds. She is locked into the house, blindly navigating a confined space in which something is stalking her. Every new room is a discovery, as she searches the detritus of the house for ways to defend herself against her unseen assailant and to try and understand why this is happening, so the uncertainty of the environment is compounded by the possibilities behind the things she unearths. It's an odd old house, filled with bottles and flasks and candles and dolls and photographs and mirrors and mysterious paintings.

On top of this, the whole movie is filmed to simulate one continuous take. I'm sure there are cheats here and there, and I'm sure the Internet will find them, make a big deal out of them, and completely miss the point in the process. Whether or not this film actually was shot in one take is less important than the feeling that is conveyed. The camera hovers around Laura at all times, sometimes turning away from her and back again like a second set of eyes, sometimes circling her, sometimes holding her firmly in its center of vision. The end result is no relief from the tension - no cutaways, no establishing shots, just us, the audience, watching Laura at every moment. By being deprived of traditional shot setups and scene structure, we have to be constantly vigilant for the bad thing that could be around every corner.  Laura's not safe, but in being deprived of the distance we usually have on events in a movie, we're not safe either. And that's scary as hell.

IMDB entry
Purchase from Amazon
Available on Netflix


  1. I added this to my Netflix queue from your recommendation here. This sounds like a movie I would enjoy. Thanks!

  2. Interesting. This was one of my least favourite films I saw last year. Did have a couple of great jumps though!

  3. I definitely think the resolution could have been handled better, but it's such a great ride getting to it that I'm willing to cut the movie a little slack.