By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Starring Gabriel Cañas
Written and Directed by Jorge Olguín
Epic Pictures Group
If William Castle were any indication, the horror genre loves a gimmick. While Jorge Olguín’s LA CASA never goes as far as having tinglers under the seats or skeletons whizzing around the room, it’s attempts at novelty are as distracting and hollow as any spectacle.
The general premise of LA CASA is that of a haunted house film. Police officer Arriagada (Gabriel Cañas) is called to look for a suspect who has reportedly been spotted near an abandoned house. This is after curfew in 1986 Chile, and tensions are high. When Arriagada arrives he hears a woman screaming inside the house and goes to inspect before his backup arrives.
This is all well and good, but LA CASA does not present this story in an easily accessible manner. It is shot in real time, with no obvious cuts or edits in the continuity. Countless films, From Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) to Silent House (2011) have had mixed success with the same approach, but LA CASA has the questionable addition of a shaky, handheld camera without the conceit of also being a found footage film. Arriagada is not himself filming the night, nor does he have a partner filming the events. Oftentimes, found footage is an easy way to explain and excuse less-than-ideal camera circumstances, but without that context here the camera movements make the production quality feel cheap and distracting.
“…LA CASA never quite connects the dots between the personal and paranormal.”
LA CASA also uses invasive music that goes from zero to eleven to signal when a scare is coming up. This slices into any tension built by the exploration of a creepy house and instead tells us precisely when to pay attention. There is no surprise nor any true jump scares because the film itself is blatantly telling us when there is spookiness afoot.
The camera work and the meddling music are perhaps meant to distract from the fact that there just aren’t all that many scares to be found in this haunted house. There be ghosts, of course, but they rarely go beyond walking behind Arriagada or dragging each other into rooms. The prologue to LA CASA involves a deformed and murdered child, but sadly this is just a misplaced Chekhov’s gun. There is also an eventual connection between the spirits in the house and Arriagada’s own demons, but LA CASA never quite connects the dots between the personal and paranormal. They are parallel, but not compounding.
While there is little to champion in the film, it is worth mentioning that Cañas gives his all throughout. The camera rarely leaves his side for the full 75-minute running time, and he does everything he can to get us on board with the frights. When LA CASA clumsily dips into the more emotional and personal final scenes, it is clear that Cañas has the acting chops to handle far more than just walking around an alarming house agog. This realization makes the film feel like an even greater disappointment, though the final monologue is absolutely worth sticking around for.
LA CASA is available now on VOD from Epic Pictures Group.