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Currently playing at the IFC Center in New York City and
debuting on-demand today from IFC Films, THE SILENT HOUSE (LA CASA MUDA)
presents, as the ads put it, “real fear in real time”—i.e., its awful events
are presented in one unbroken take. It was a daring approach for Uruguyan
first-time writer/director Gustavo Hernández, who discussed its details with
Based on a real-life case from several decades ago, THE
SILENT HOUSE attracted enough attention even before its commercial U.S. debut
to get the English-language remake treatment (the American version, directed by
the OPEN WATER team of Chris Kentis and Laura Lau and starring Elizabeth Olsen,
world-premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was picked
up for Stateside distribution by Liddell Entertainment). Hernández’s movie
follows a young woman named Laura (Florencia Colucci) and her father Nestor
(Abel Tripaldi) into the titular abode, which they plan to clean up in
preparation for its impending sale—but someone or something inside wants to
make sure they don’t exit alive…
FANGORIA: What was the true case that inspired the film?
GUSTAVO HERNÁNDEZ: In the 1940s, in a small town outside of
the city, two mutilated bodies and a number of disturbing photographs were
found. We reconstructed the last 80 minutes before those murders.
FANG: How closely does the film’s storyline stick to that
HERNÁNDEZ: Fairly close, according to the information that
we found in the chronicles of the period. While this event gave us the
inspiration to create the film, however, as with any fiction, it required
certain artistic freedom to make the story more workable.
FANG: What led to the decision to present all the action in
HERNÁNDEZ: I was looking for a way for the audience to live
the emotions, the fears and the sensations of the characters in the first
person without the manipulation of time or space. I wanted to make what
happened on the screen more realistic, and for people to fully identify with
FANG: How long did it take to get it all on camera?
HERNÁNDEZ: We filmed for five days to achieve the final
result, but obviously the preparation prior to that realization was very
detailed, in order to achieve our objectives.
FANG: What were the most challenging parts of the shoot?
HERNÁNDEZ: There was nothing easy on this movie, even though
it looks visually simple. Every day had its critical moments, and every day we
had to start all over. Every attempt was harder than the previous one!
FANG: Were any visual FX involved?
HERNÁNDEZ: The effects are almost non-existent. We tried to
remain faithful to the original idea we had when we first took on the project,
trying to find a natural fluidity to the visual approach.
FANG: How did you find the house you used, and how long did
it take to set it up for the movie?
HERNÁNDEZ: We had been looking for the ideal location for
two months, and found it outside the city. When we entered the house for the
first time, we were shocked, because it looked like it had been frozen in time,
with a lot of spiderwebs and incredible objects. The art director was
surprised, because it had a lot of the aesthetics we had considered when
brainstorming ideas, and this made our work much easier.
FANG: How were the actors cast?
HERNÁNDEZ: We put out a wide casting call, and over a few
months we selected the actors and worked with them, searching for their
individual sensitivity. We are very satisfied with our final selection and
their work in the movie.
FANG: How much rehearsal was done, both before you started
on the location and at the actual house?
HERNÁNDEZ: That took us a few months; we worked on every
phase and concentrated a lot on rehearsals with the actors, and choreographing
their actions with the rest of the crew.
FANG: THE SILENT HOUSE is shot with a handheld camera; did
you ever consider using a Steadicam instead?
HERNÁNDEZ: No, never. I always wanted the camera to maintain
a human pulse, in order to convey more intense and familiar emotions. I never
wanted a smooth or streamlined style for this story.
FANG: How many crewmembers were involved, and how did they
work around the long takes?
HERNÁNDEZ: During the takes there were only the actors and
four other people: The cinematographer [Pedro Luque], the sound engineer, an
assistant and myself. Our footsteps were always present in the filming because
it was impossible to maintain silence for so long; therefore, during the sound
postproduction, we had a lot of work eliminating our own noises.
FANG: How much of the lighting came from the lamps and other
sources seen on screen, and how much was hidden?
HERNÁNDEZ: The cinematographer worked with minimal
light—only the lamps, a lantern that was placed outside a window and minimal
fill-in lights in the rooms. We had a very limited set of lights, and we took
maximum advantage of them.
FANG: In a number of scenes, the characters are seen
reflected in mirrors. Given the way the movie was shot, was it difficult
getting the placement of those just right—and not having the camera and crew
show up in the mirrors?
HERNÁNDEZ: There were many rehearsals with the positioning
of the mirrors, and it was very difficult working with them to make them
functional. But we’re happy with the results, because they convey a series of
key emotions in delicate moments, and gave us variety in the frames.
FANG: One moment in the middle of a long take has a bunch of
birds suddenly flying out of a hiding place. Was it difficult setting up and
shooting this gag?
HERNÁNDEZ: Very! We had to start all over many times,
because the birds did not want to fly. We had a large quantity of them, to
allow for more possibilities of one bird spreading its wings and flying close
to the camera. It was a very difficult part of the filming.
FANG: Toward the end of THE SILENT HOUSE, the point of view
changes from objective to that of one specific character. Why did you decide to
make that switch?
HERNÁNDEZ: I wanted to have a different viewpoint because
dramatically, the movie turns in a different direction at that point, and I
needed to tell the story from that place.
FANG: The surprise revelation in the film’s last act has
gotten a lot of widely varying responses. Was there a lot of discussion about
it before or during shooting?
HERNÁNDEZ: I personally like the twist a lot, and we did
have many discussions about that final stretch of the story. In general, the
movie represents a very big risk, and we thought it would also be good to take
a chance in telling a story with a radical twist at the end, and not fall into
a predictable outcome.
FANG: A key scene in THE SILENT HOUSE only runs after the
end credits are over. Why did you decide to place it there?
HERNÁNDEZ: I chose to add that sequence after the credits to
illustrate and enrich, even more, the feelings and characteristics of the
character involved. It doesn’t justify that person’s past actions, but it gives
the audience more information and expresses a dreamlike release necessary for
that character at that point.
FANG: Were you involved at all in the U.S. remake, and if
not, have you seen it?
HERNÁNDEZ: I was not involved and I haven’t seen it either,
but we are looking forward to discovering a new vision of our work.
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