Review : La Casa‘s house of horrors is ambitious, but nobody’s home

On paper, Latin American cult horror director Jorge Olguín’s latest film has a lot of promise.

Shot in real-time over three nights, La Casa follows a Chilean police officer who is ordered to investigate reports of strange noises at a nearby abandoned building. Lacking reinforcements, Arrigada (Gabriel Cañas) has no choice but to bravely venture into the dishevelled house alone under the long-distance guidance of his dispatcher.

The film is book-ended with various found-footage sequences, which establish a mythology behind the house across several decades. La Casa doesn’t give an objective answer as to why the house is the site for so many supernatural encounters; instead, several different accounts from journalists, historians and paranormal investigators speculate on its origins.

These book-end elements are quite interesting, but unfortunately they’re more intriguing than the main course. The decision to shoot handheld in real-time is an admirably ambitious decision by Olguín, but the events of the film don’t really justify the stylistic choice. For the most part, we follow Cañas as his protagonist wanders through dark rooms, occasionally interrupted by the appearance of ghostly women with accompanying loud noises.

The plot does ultimately lead to a resolution of the threads teased throughout, but to get there we have to sit through long stretches of Cañas fumbling with his torch or lighter in an environment already lit up by Olguín’s camera – which, in the continuity of the film, isn’t technically there. This looks like a found-footage film, but it’s not, and the influence of the camera ends up far more distracting than effective.

There are some good efforts here – Cañas is doing his best with such a sparse screenplay, delivering a believably feverish and terrified performance as Arrigada leads us to the ultimate truth in the belly of the house. Olguín’s score is also suitably unsettling; roughly textured synths and low, droning moans turn on the dread, even if it the on-screen action is often dragged-out.

The intent is praise-worthy, but the real-time shoot doesn’t produce scares or storytelling that couldn’t have been achieved as well (if not better) in a more traditional cinematic style. There’s the foundation for an excellent tale of trauma, guilt and the echoes of past evils here, but unfortunately it’s simply not engaging enough as a feature film.

★★☆☆☆


La Casa is now available on VOD and Blu-Ray.

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