Monday, 4 April 2011

La Casa Muda

The Blair Witch Project 1999 is not the first found footage movie. Amongst others preceding it is The Last Broadcast1 1998. However Blair Witch was the first film of its type to attract the public’s attention.

So successful was the film that its ‘type’ is now a subgenre. Point-of-View (POV)/ first person/cinema vérité/found footage was revolutionary in 1999 when the film first screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Smoke signals drifted from America over to England but it wasn’t clear if this was documentary or fiction. The smoke signals were hazy.

It wasn’t clear in America either. Blair Witch opened wide July 30th. By the time it was released in the UK (October 22nd) it had done $140 million2 domestic ($184m adjusted for inflation). Its success was reminiscent of Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast War of the Worlds and coincided with a period of hysteria that comes once every thousand years. The gross result was a worldwide box office total of $248 million2 ($326m adjusted).

Hollywood is a business. It was time to add another business model called the POV movie. The nature of the commercial beast means there will always be more opportunists than auteurs. So when a subgenre comes in vogue (eg torture porn) more dross is produced than quality movies. No one remembers Head Case 2007. POV movies are announced with irritating regularity over the news wires.

Yet what was revolutionary in 1999 remains dynamic in 2011. The POV film is a valid style of storytelling when applied to the narrative. For example in [REC] 2007 the film was shown through the lens of a TV cameraman on the job. In Apollo 18 2012 the astronauts helm the camera – as astronauts have always taken cameras with them.

The legacy of Blair Witch lives in the success of low budget independent filmmakers. Oren Peli shot Paranormal Activity 2009 on a home video camera with a $15k budget. The audience responded with a $197 million3 worldwide gross. Foreign filmmakers have benefitted too. [REC] was successful enough to spawn a sequel and an American remake. La Casa Muda 2010 has also spawned an American remake  – starring one of the Olsen twins sisters.
La Casa Muda premiered last year in Cannes and similar to the Sundance screening of Blair Witch it has been making noises ever since. This is POV film without found footage. There is an invisible cameraman recording events which begs the question why use POV? Perhaps the filmmakers were aware of their irrational use of style so to camouflage the fact they added a further gimmick: they claim this is a one-shot movie a là Rope 1948 by Alfred Hitchcock.

Rope is not a one-shot movie and neither is La Casa Muda. The gimmick is nigh impossible to pull off and when it has been done (Russian Ark4 2002) it turns out to be nothing but a white elephant in widescreen. Film theory critics may effusive over this sort of celluloid indulgence but film theory critics effusive over Citizen Kane 1941.

No one else does.

Strike three for La Casa Muda is the ‘based on a true story’ tagline. Autobiographies are not based on true stories and anything in front of a camera is faked. The true events purportedly happened in ‘a small village’ in Uruguay in the ‘40s. Whatever happened in that village cannot nearly be accurately depicted onscreen. The ‘true story’ tag is another marketing gimmick. The cumulative effect of this three pronged publicity strategy worked. La Casa Muda has the world’s attention:
Florencia Colucci
Teenager Laura accompanies her father on a job to renovate a rural cottage. It is when they bunker down for the night that they come under siege from unseen forces.

Florencia Colucci plays Laura as a daddy’s girl in a tomboy outfit. She’s likeable sans makeup and sensuality even as her character disintegrates into feral panic. The story is not a bad one but it is badly told. Due to the POV format it dredges into torpor.

It is telling that the best scene section of the film is at the beginning: the exterior shot induces isolation without it being sinister. The accompanying score compliments the sojourn toward the silent house.

La Casa Muda fails in its remit to entertain but as disappointing as this film is the American version is bound to be worse.

La Casa Muda goes on general release in the UK on April 8th. There is no release date for the US however the remake The Silent House 2011 is to be announced.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Re/Made in the USA:Let Me In
1 The Last Broadcast 1998 Google Video
2 The Blair Witch Project The Numbers
3 Paranormal Activity The Numbers
4 Russian Ark (trailer) Youtube
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