The House at the End of Time Movie Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
Written and directed by Alejandro Hidalgo
2013, 101 minutes, Not Rated
Rosmel Bustamante as Leopoldo
Adriana Calzadilla as Vidente Adriana
Simona Chirinos as Madame Victoria
Gonzalo Cubero as Juan José
La casa del fin de los tiempos (The House at the End of Time) is Alejandro's Hidalgo's inventive supernatural tale that has taken its home country by storm. It is the first Venezuelan horror film to reach a truly global audience and hopefully won't be the last. This deeply reflective work played at Fantasia film festival in Montreal earlier this year and is set for its UK premiere at London's Frightfest. Hidalgo's first feature film pales in comparison to Juan Carlos Medina's Spanish language 2013 Frightfest hit, Insensibles (Painless) but still succeeds in weaving its ghostly magic. Clearly inspired by a referential mix of auteurs such as Guillermo Del Toro and HP Lovecraft, Hidalgo's film is at its best when it primes in on the haunted labyrinth of its spectacular gothic mansion. A slightly convoluted dual narrative and lagging middle period fails to capitalize on an incredibly promising opening, however a shocking twist is beautifully timed and succeeds in catching the viewer completely off guard.
The opening scenes are elegantly played in traditional gothic fashion with lanterns and candles used to light the creepy grandeur of the house. There are shades of Jack Clayton's seminal The Innocents (1961) in these sensational moments as Dulce (Ruddy Rodriguez) discovers the murdered corpse of her husband and searches for her missing son. With evidence stacked against her, Dulce is arrested and imprisoned for her unexplained crimes. She is released some thirty years on as an elderly lady and returns to the abandoned house from which she came.
The narrative is centered on Dulce's reflections of her plight and the night that changed her life forever. Told through a mix of flashbacks of before she went to prison and the present, Hidalgo conveys his story by seamlessly overlapping periods of time. Dulce's quaint yet financially challenging life with husband Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero) is bound by their love for sons Leopoldo and Rodrigo. Fears of a dark ghost-like presence permeate through Hidalgo's script and evoke a burning sense of mystery. Who is the knife wielding intruder lurking in the shadows, stalking Dulce? As periods of time begin bleeding together, the house begins throwing up some supernatural anomalies. All is clearly not what it seems.
While the supernatural concepts blur the realities of space and time, the child scenes lack the weight and emotional thunder of the likes of Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone. They are well acted but don't have enough depth to really build affinity with its central characters. The House at the End of Time succeeds in building an atmospheric tension but fails to capitalize on its scare potential. The eventual reveal is intriguing but does feel a tad far-fetched. To Hidalgo's credit, the core fulcrum of this promising debut is based on a sound exploration of time. Who defines it? Is it possible for moments and people to become trapped in limbo?
The fact that Hidalgo explores profound themes so early on in his career suggests there is cause for great optimism that he may develop his talents along the same growth trajectory as South American compatriots Uruguayan Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) and Andres Muschietti (Mama) have in recent years. Now that would be a welcome outcome; we will be watching this space.
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