Laura (Florencia Colucci) is a young woman who, as night falls, arrives at a crumbling old property with her grumpy father Wilson (Gustavo Alonso); he appears to be a long-time employee, factotum and family friend of the house's owner Néstor (Abel Tripaldi) who also puts in an appearance to let them into the house. There is, incidentally, going to be nothing "silent" about it.
She is there to help her dad with the arduous job Néstor has given them – to clean out the house and grounds prior to a sale. The whole business will take two or three days, during which they will have to stay in the house, where the electricity is out. Candles and lamps will be necessary after nightfall. Resolving to make a start in the morning, Wilson and Laura try to bed down on armchairs, but Laura is soon woken by a heartstopping thump from upstairs in the darkness. As the awful events unfold, Laura appears to be menaced by unquiet spirits that she and her father have awoken. Or is it that Laura has somehow brought the unquiet spirits with her? Who exactly is doing the menacing to whom?
Relatively recent advances in digital shooting and projection have made the "single take" film possible; an extended seamless travelling shot can now be achieved more convincingly than in Hitchcock's Rope, in which the cuts were famously concealed by the camera's periodic swoops into darkness. The last film like this was Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark, in which the camera roamed through the corridors of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and brought the ghosts of the Russian past back to life. Perhaps there is something in the single-take film that is conducive to the supernatural. Without the breathing spaces afforded by scene-changes and cuts – three days later, earlier that morning etc – the atmosphere intensifies and accumulates in an uncanny, oppressive way, like a seance. Paradoxically, the real time and real space makes us all the more aware of the unreality and theatricality of what is being created. One muffed line, one failed light, one glimpse of the camera crew in the mirror and everyone has to go back to first positions and Colucci will have to stop screaming and sobbing and return to the initial mood of wary discontent that began the picture – and do it quickly, because time is money on a film set.
Well, the darkness helps to reduce that possibility, and it creates a Victorian atmosphere as Laura tremblingly explores the house, her pale strained face illuminated by her lamp. The positioning of the camera is itself an interesting point here – unlike Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, the camera is not a real presence in the action, supposedly creating discovered footage for us to witness after the event. But it is possible to wonder about what might be termed the camera's behaviour, even its identity.
Sometimes it tags along behind Laura, especially at the film's beginning, and in the high arthouse style gives an enigmatic, extended view of the back of her head. As the anxiety heightens, it creeps alongside her; it sees what she sees. Sometimes, though, at moments of audience-grabbing shock, it will wheel round and look at Laura herself, and for a fraction of a second the audience thinks that Laura is the alien presence. It is a "cheat" effect in some ways, but one that maintains the disorientation and claustrophobia, and prepares the ground for later developments.
Hernández's most ingenious contrivance comes as Laura begins to realise that the house has served as an artistic studio. She discovers paintings and a Polaroid camera, with fully functioning flashbulb. Her lamp goes out, and confronted by a terrible presence, she panickingly realises that the only way to see what is happening is to take pictures, and so, like flashes of lightning, accompanied by the Polaroid's rising motor-whine, we see fragmented, starkly lit glimpses of the horror. It is a creepy, clever, elegant sequence. Perhaps Hernández has hit on something else, too: there is something sinister and ectoplasmic about all photographs, old and new.
Opinions may divide about the ambiguous reveal at the end of the film, or about its extended "outro" coda, which arguably injures the unity of the single-take idea. But there's no doubt about it: this is a smart, scary film and a technical tour de force with its own skin-crawling atmosphere of fear.