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.

  • Tony R

    Aren't a lot of foreign films like that though. You watch them and then at the end are kind of left with a "say what" feeling, even a strong "say what" feeling. I get the feeling that since films in the United States are almost always to leave you with an ending that ties up the story with all questionts answered, foreign films try to do the opposite. Like "ok we are going to do the opposite of you Hollywood, we are going to make our films with a different flavor than you, and here it will be cool." Kind of like we have the market on make sense films, so they do this to differentiate theirs. One film I saw that was French, like in the French language, was "the Swimming Pool". Did not make sense on a few things. Then when you go online people tell you what happened but it was clear they really didn't know either, just though they did. So my conclusions, they aren't supose to make sense, that's the point. Then people try to read into them what all this "deep meaning" is in the film. Problem is all this "deep meaning" is interpreted different by everyone.

  • http://cineenuruguay.blogspot.com Driver

    Im from Uruguay and I feel the same way about the film, but here no one cares because the movie was made in Uruguay, so everyone think is an amazing film and is not even close. It doesn't make sense, the one shot thing is another gimmick and for me they wasted the potential to make a good hunted house movie.
    Oh, by the way, this is the first horror/suspense movie made in my country, I was so happy to see something different being made, but it was so forgettable. I hope the remake can manage to do something better with the material.
    True story, yeah right... maybe a couple of things , but there isn't a chance the rest is.

  • Kim

    LOL! I had a blast reading the article, so thank you very much Mr. Brad Brevet! I too, was curious as I am a avid horror movie fan, particularly when things are "based on true events". And with the upcoming film on 3/9 I decided to take a peek at this. Firstly, I must admit that this is the first "scary"flick I actually almost dozed off during...but with that said, I kind of formed an interpretation, not without a few unanswered questions, like yourself.
    Laura and father agree to repair said home and arrive very late after working in the fields all day. :) The uncle/friend/child molester shows up to discuss details and warns them both not to go upstairs. Laura has heat exhaustion beyond her multiple personality disorder and psychotic behavior. She and her father settle in the living room and the fun begins. A photo album that isnt shown provides curious information to Laura, but we have no clue as to what that might be, but we are certain no good has come to "Papa", as he shows up dead, hands tied. Then its cat a mouse. It gets a bit tricky with the pictures, as her father and the other guy are in all of them, on the wall. It also appears there is another woman besides Laura? so..perhaps Laura is not really psychotic..but possessed? That provides a whole new element. Maybe both are happening?
    Either way, we find out about the rattling noise, his relationship with a young girl, maybe Laura? As she goes from asking him what happened to him, to does he still love her, and he made her murder their child?? whew...I'm confused again.
    She clearly took lots of notice of the artifacts in the home. Like initially being terrified of that polaroid camera. Perhaps she had blocked out years of molestation and it occurred in that home. But who is the man with the knife? Another psychotic episode? There was much confusion, clearly. Or really, clear as mud.
    And Laura? Never seen again? cmon....Give us the real story. This movie keeps right up with my ADD. lol.
    I will ALSO be looking forward to the upcoming US release of Silent house.

  • http://them0vieblog.com Darren

    I caught the remake this week at the Dublin Film Festival and it's okay. The real-time one-take (but not really one-take) thing is a distratcing gimmick. But I suspect it is much more straight-forward than the original, to the point where it over-explains everything ina denoument that just ruins the pacing of the film. (Which was already on shaky ground.)

  • Kimberlesk

    I knew it. Another very scary looking trailer for a film that isn't really about the supernatural at all. At first, I was excited to see this -- then, I thought, what if it's just like "They" or "The Strangers" -- another film about people terrorizing people, not a supernatural thriller? But thanks, Brad, I actually want to see it now -- you're post has made me very curious.

  • Lacey P

    THANK YOU! I am NOT the only one.

  • allie

    i think kim^ had most of it covered there and considering i watched the remake before the original, i think it cleared things up a bit more. From what i gather, Laura has multiple personality disorder/dissosiative personality disorder. Sometimes people who go through a trauma in their life find the only way to cope is by forgetting about it so this is where the mpd comes in. Laura created a new personality so to speak so she could forget about the stuff that happened to her. From the pictures on the wall we can clearly see that her father and the other man (uncle?) sexually abused her. there were also pictures of other girls who looked like hookers so maybe they just had other girls over as well? and yes she did get pregnant as some of the pictures show. as far as the killing of her father, from her disorder, we can assume she is the one who did it, and again this is made much more clear in the remake version. at the end of the movie when she sees the photos and remembers what happened, she comes back into conscious or connection with the part of her that knew all along and that was doing all the killings and we see that when she finishes what she was doing and kills the guys. the little ghost type girl that we see may eather be her unborn child or herself, in the remake its clear that its a younger version of herself when the abuse started but its not as clear in this version. and the man she supposedly sees walking around and who is made to look like the killer is just a version of herself as a protector? possibly, but was actually her all along. as far as this being a true story, how can we know for sure if laura went missing?? no one couldve known this story and what happened. and if u dont believe the whole mpd thing, watch The Uninvited. very similar character plot. also Hide and Seek had a somewhat similarity as far as mpd goes. all in all this isnt the only movie to portray this disorder in this way. im not too sure why people thought it was so confusing, it was just less clear than other movies who basically tell u straight up whats going on.

  • Lacey P

    Its confusing cuz we only saw the origianl, which was also a poor copy...so nothing was "clear"

  • https://www.facebook.com/barker.g.sarah Sarah B

    I assume the "ghostly girl" in this movie is not her unborn daughter but Laura herself at that age when she was molested and/or abused. To me that would make more sense than it being an unborn fetus that aged 8-10 yrs... Maybe the photo albums held pictures of her at that age with her father & Nestor at the house at the time of the abuse & she had blocked out the horror of the abuse but it all came flooding back, the pictures also most likely displayed the abuse. It would make sense that she hugged her younger self but... Id like to find out if the new remake tells more of this story so I am going to rent it today. I haven't seen any of these films although I intend too even though almost everything I have read about them is not that good but it all sounds intriguing even though I know so much now.

    It really bothers me when filmmakers state "Based on True Events" but we can't find anything to back those claims up! I have found these claims to be false in so many movies! Every time I see that now (in horror movies) I want to believe it but the sad facts flood back to me about the many many movies that claim to be based on true events that never happened. :(

  • https://www.facebook.com/barker.g.sarah Sarah B

    I forgot to mention this, thank you Brad Brevet for this well written article. You have excellent points and questions, and I am more interested now than I was before. Also thank you to everyone else who commented as well. I absolutely have to see both versions of this movie now :)

  • Carla

    Ok, I know this post is from more than a year ago and right now my comment can look like out of place... but I just found out about this movie a week ago when I found the US version on Netflix. Had to watch that one first and then (today) watch the original one since it was not available on streaming.

    What is that you people don't understand... I don't really know. It could be a little bit confusing at the beginning but it is all said and explained at the end. Really???!!! Sorry but then you are or either very negative or just not too smart.

    Why they are walking through a field and not driving is not really surprising for me, and doesn't bother me at all cause in Uruguay not everybody has a car and going to places like this by bus sometimes means taking THAT only bus (only one bus a day) that would drop you a "couple" of miles away from the place and many times the shortest way to get there is just to walk through the filed instead of following the road that leads to the house. Or maybe they lived in a nearby house (meaning maybe 3, 4, 5 or more miles away)... so, nothing weird or absurd about that. Also Laura mentions at the end of the movie (after the credits) that she is going to "grandma's" (her mother, she is talking to her never born or dead daughter) and she is again walking though the field.

    Why Laura goes to Nestor's truck???!!! Not odd since he says he brought some blankets and some drums (??? not sure if that would be the correct word)... and then you can see Laura carrying a plastic liquid container after leaving the car.
    Where do you get the impression that Nestor doesn't know Laura??? I don't know... he actually tells Wilson after Laura gives him a kiss, that you could tell how much time has passed when you look at your kids (or something like that)... you immediately assumed from that conversation that he knows Laura since she was a girl or at least for a long time.

    Of course she killed them both!!! She tells Nestor at the end of the movie that he will die just like her father did. Why she is concerned about her father only for a couple of minutes??? Because she just killed him or at least tortured him, tied him up or whatever... she is just crazy, the house, the pictures obviously triggered some memories or trauma from her past and she is not a very sane person, she is delusional, she is for moments "denying" what she just did and that's when she asks her father "what they have done to you?", but then she goes back to her crazy self.
    She is not possessed, there is no other person, or presence in the house... it is just LAURA!!! The other women in those pictures are other girls like Laura that were "used" by Nestor and Laura's father... you can see in some of them they are actually "having fun", drinking, even playing (reminded me of Twin Peaks"). But Laura got pregnant and it seemed she had a "relationship" with Nestor, who probably was married at the time, or maybe they were family and that's why Nestor tells her they couldn't had the baby. The girls IS Laura's daughter, of course is a vision, but she tells Nestor to tell their daughter he misses her that she is right there!!!

    Well, I don't know... you all seem so into movies and stuff and couldn't understand this one. Ok, I might be then super intelligent... c'mon!!!!!!

    Y vos "Driver"... no te hagas el superado, no me jodas!!! Soy uruguaya aunque no vivo en Uruguay desde hace 14 años, y obviamente estoy bastante por fuera, pero la pelicula es de lo major que he visto "Made In Uruguay", no le saques el credito que se merece que por algo llego tan lejos.

    • http://cineenuruguay.blogspot.com/ Driver

      No me hago el superado de ninguna manera, no me gusto la película y siento que se le da mas credtio solo por ser la primera película de terror uruguaya. Ahora en tu caso se nota que tenes pasión por la cinta y lo respeto perfectamente, como deberías respetar las opiniones de los demás.

      Ahora en cuanto al cine por acá, sin duda es de lo mas interesante que he visto y me alegro que haya tenido el éxito que tuvo, pero realmente estoy harto de que en nuestro país digan que todo es prácticamente perfecto cada vez que sale una película hecha acá. Parece que nadie se atreve a decir algo diferente, y quizá fue por verla después de oír todo los comentarios positivos hacia la misma, pero no me gusto. No me hago el superado (Superado de que?), hay películas uruguayas que me gustan y otras que no, fin.

      Fue un gran paso para nuestro cine, eso es indiscutible, pero me pareció que prometía bastante al principio y a medida que avanzaba me fue perdiendo. Muchas veces me encuentro en la minoría hablando de muchas películas uruguayas, pero para mí si uno no expresa su criticismo, nuestro cine no evolucionara.

      Ah, y te felicito por entenderla de la forma que lo hiciste (De ese punto no puedo decir nada porque la vi hace como dos años), pero si queres que te tomen enserio en una pagina como esta o bueno, donde sea, no llames a los demás poco inteligentes...

      • Carla

        A vos te pido disculpas si te ofendi en mi comentario... tenes razon "everyone is entitled to their own opinion".

        Concuerdo con vos en que muchas veces se hace demasiado bardo con lo nacional solo porque es hecho en casa y tambien he visto peliculas uruguayas con gran expectativa y me he desilusionado, pero teniendo una amiga que estudio cine ahi tambien se lo dificil que es hacer algo en Uruguay. Y en este caso me gusto lo que vi y despues de leer tantos comentarios negativos y de haber visto la version americana primero estaba preparada para lo peor, pero me encontre con que la version uruguaya (en mi opinion) es muy superior a la otra que no deja de ser una pobre pelicula de "misterio", pero por supuesto este "critico" la recomienda sobre la original.

        Que no me tomen en serio la verdad no me quita el sueno, cada cosa que escribi como "you are or either very negative or just not too smart" no fue con ningun aire de superioridad si no con llamemosle "sacarsmo" (?), senalando que con buena voluntad podrian haber entendido la pelicula porque no se necesita ser un genio (cosa que yo no soy obviamente) para entenderla... pero los americanos en general creen que el mundo tiene 50 estados y que no existe nada mas alla de US. La persona que escribio esta nota se cuestiona cosas que estan dichas en la pelicula... hasta pense en mirarla con subtitulos en ingles y ver si la traduccion estaba mal hecha porque a mi lo que me dejo realmente confundida fue que la gente tuviera tanta dificultad para entenderla que hasta pense que quizas era yo la que la estaba malinterpretando.

        Otra cosa es que la pelicula no esta basada en hechos reales si no inspirada en hechos reales que no es lo mismo. La pelicula es ficcion... y claro que la gente confundio una cosa con la otra.
        Yo personalmente busque por todos lados informacion sobre ese caso y no pude encontrar nada, pero sin embargo encontre el comentario de alguien que investigo y dice haber averiguado cosas. Incluso le pregunte a mi padre que tenia 11 anos cuando eso paso y no se acuerda para nada del caso, pero es en cierto modo entendible... o por ahi la realidad es que es simplemente una leyenda y no hay nada documentado. A mi no me consta ni una cosa ni la otra.

        Espero que la vea mi esposo en estos dias y me de su opinion... will see!

  • Jim Poose

    Nestor and her father had her kill her daughter. That's one point you're missing in the review. Perhaps the plot was for Nestor and her father to have her spend the night so they can kill her, getting rid of the only witness. Nestor leaves the house, but he could easily turn around while they get ready for bed. He sneaks in and causes a commotion alerting the heroine and when she sends her father up to investigate, Nestor kills him. Nestor screws around with Laura for a while until around the time where she gets out of the house. He could have left before she got out and brought the car back around to pick her up and bring her back into the house. He ditches her on purpose to cut the lights and then ambush her in the dark room. He falls on the knife because of the camera flash in the dark room being disorienting and she finds him later after she does a little exploring. She figures out the dark secret and realizes that she was married to nestor and Nestor and her father forced her to kill her child. She is driven completely insane from the experience of being in the house and relearning the truth. Kills nestor and leaves the house. This would explain why laura did not actually cause the things she was running away from and that it was Nestor all along inside of the house. If you recall there was a man in the house when she was hiding at one point. Same with the attacker in the dark room with the Polaroid camera flash. In the end Laura goes crazy, not because thats just how she is, but after enduring the stress of being in the house for so long and realizing the truth about her past.