La Casa

La Casa could not be a simpler, more straightforward horror movie. Director Jorge Olguin works from a basic premise: a lone cop, Arriagada (Gabriel Cañas), gets a call about a disturbance at a creepy old mansion. He drives his car over, then goes inside to investigate. All kinds of terrifying things await him, including a bloodied woman and a shadowy figure with glowing eyes and long dark claws.

If it sounds like there's not much to the picture, that's because the sheer design is what makes it stand out. Filmed over the course of just three nights, La Casa is structured to be immersive for the audience. The story, such as it is, unfolds over real time and is told in a series of long unbroken takes. Viewers subsequently feel like they're Arriagada's partner, investigating the place alongside him.

That approach gives the film a real kick because it takes away the cues we've come to expect from horror movies. Seasoned veterans of fright flicks can often feel the scares coming. We know from that beat of silence that something loud is about to clang on the soundtrack. We realize that open space on the side of the screen means something will pop out there. Sometimes its merely being able to read a movie's rhythm and recognize that a moment of terror is coming like the downbeat in a piece of music.

Absent those cues to lean on, La Casa has free reign to catch us off guard. Olguin uses clever little tricks, like having the camera focused on Arriagada in the foreground, then having an actor playing one of the mansion's otherworldly inhabitants come into the scene behind him, so that we don't see them until he moves. Several good jump scares are achieved this way. The director additionally fills the soundtrack with eerie noises, baby cries, and screams. Those sounds become a symphony of dread.

The best way to describe La Casa would be to call it “lean and mean.” Running a tight seventy-five minutes, it moves quickly, plunging you into a nightmare scenario, scaring the crap out of you, and then pulling you back out. This Latin American import offers a special experience certain to please anyone looking for inventive horror.

out of four

La Casa is unrated, but contains some bloody violence. The running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes.