Posted on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 by Peter Sciretta
Gustavo Hernández‘s The Silent House is a Uruguayan horror movie which was shot in one long 79-minute continuous take. Got your attention?
Ever since I first discovered Goodfellas (scene embedded above), I’ve been fascinated in the long tracking shots of filmmakers such as Scorsese, Kubrick, PT Anderson, De Palma, Altman, Welles, Cuaron and Hitchcock. I haven’t however seen many full length feature films shot in one continuous take. Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope was intended to play out in one long take but the cameras available at the time could hold no more than 1000 feet of 35 mm film. Each take in the film lasts about 10 minutes and uses a visual move as a transition between shots.
The birth of digital filmmaking made it possible to shoot a feature length film without one single cut, but the films that have been produced have been lackluster. Aleksandr Sokurov’s 2002 film Russian Ark was one long 96-minute steadicam shot, taking viewers through the Russian State Hermitage Museum where we experience encounters historical figures from the last 200+ years. The film was extensive and a highly technical cinematic achievement, involving a cast of over 2,000 actors. The film took four attempts to get it right. But ultimately the movie lacks a narrative structure that most cinemagoers crave.
Mike Figgis’ 2000 film Timecode used four frames split screened of 95 minutes of simultaneous action. The film’s narrative of four stories which at times interconnect was a great experiment, but not much more.
Gustavo Hernández’s The Silent House is supposedly based on a true story of a daughter and father who are hired to renovate a boarded-up broken down cottage in a rural area of Uruguay. They plan to spend the night at the house and begin repairs the following morning. But the Teenage daughter begins to hear noises from the upstairs, and that is where this haunted house story begins.
The film is shot completely handheld, and the house is lit using a combination of candles and lanterns. The film has an incredible sense of mood and plays well with the darkness and small spaces. Cinematographer Pedro Luque does the best he can with the restrictions in place, hitting planned marks almost every minute or so, giving the film some spectacular cinematic framing. The teenage lead actress Florencia Colucci gives an unbelievable performance, especially considering the many restrictions presented by the 79-minute take.
And while the story isn’t anything new, it is presented in a way you’ve never seen it before. With better sound design, this film could have been the next Paranormal Activity. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an official or unofficial English-language remake with the same concept, but in 3D.
I’m not however completely convinced this film was shot in one single take. There are a bunch of moments when the screen moves by darkness which would allow for a hidden cut. We didn’t discount Alfanso Cuaron for the stitch-work required in some of the Children of Men long shots, and while this is much less stylized it is still an achievement on a couple different levels. Of course, at this point there is no way to know for sure. I can tell you that while I may have noticed the opportunities to employ editing, I didn’t specifically notice any edited together shots.
You can watch the teaser trailer for the film below: