LA CASA DEL FIN DE LOS TIEMPOS (THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME)
Only a well-educated Catholic boy who had a loving mother to nurture his wild imagination could have produced the script for La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos, the most successful Venezuelan horror film yet. The film deserves the success. In the final titles it is dedicated to two women who are identified as mothers. No doubt these women are also entitled to some credit. The film is a heady mix of time travel, the supernatural, violence, gender politics, rites of passage and domestic conflict. The time travel element requires a complicated structure. There are a few sly tricks with a flashback but no deceit. There may be implausibility, for example a poor couple living in such a big house and the return of the convicted murderer to the house, but, where implausibility exists, it is explained. The excuses are neat, and the film maintains its own logic.
The time travel element makes it comparable to the highly original and excellent Spanish movie Los Cronocrimenes. In that film the notions behind the time loop plot ensured that the viewer was as confused as the hero with the bandaged head. The appeal of La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos is that it leads to final clarity and decisive action by the main character. The two films compliment each other very well and should be seen together as a double horror bill. As in Los Cronocrimenes the consequence of the time shift is that characters haunt themselves. This effect is witnessed in the film as something extreme. But the film also exists as a reminder that time will always oblige a person to have alternative identities, and that if we are honest with ourselves, we have to accept that those different identities are not compelled to like each other. They will certainly not have the same understanding of events and circumstances. So if time does acts peculiarly and lets our alternative identities exist together they will make different decisions and be in conflict. The teaser is whether time is compelled to play the tricks imagined by writers loved by their mothers, or at least tricks beyond its normal deceptions. It may be that, whatever arbitrary rules we apply to time, our life will always consist of conflict between who we are, what we were and who we will be. Marriage is an obvious example of how time undermines the decisions we make and reveals our different personas. It is not accidental that the heroic woman in La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos has to struggle with the consequences of a poor marriage. If time has substance, it comes from the twists and perverted consequences it carries. La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos is great because it makes the perverted outcomes of destiny explicit.
The metaphysical tricks ensure that nobody will deny the film praise for originality but the script is also rooted in reality and character. Pedro Almodovar argued in Todo Sobre Mi Madre that motherhood blessed women with heroism. La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos preaches the same message. Women may deny mature males the glory and freedom that men assume are their entitlements but frustrated and would be warriors should never forget how women sacrificed their lives and hopes to groom and protect their children. The name for the mother in La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos is Dulce, which in Spanish means sweet. Sweetness is what is required from mothers and what, through love, they add to the lives of their children. Inevitably the husband in La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos is not viewed quite so sympathetically. Juan Jose is indolent and likes to escape to the bar on the corner. Gonzalo Cubero is marvellous, though, as the father and husband. The facial features of Cubero are not unlike those of Hugo Chavez. His demeanour has weight, and somehow Cubero suggests suffering and complexity and manages to make the father sympathetic. Juan Jose may be a burden on his wife and family but we have a hint from the performance of the actor that life has shaped this now worthless man. He is as much a victim as the woman he victimises and the family he fails to support.
Most of the film takes place in the old large house, which is located in a place where the normal rules of time do not apply. The scenes of the two children playing with the children of the neighbours are different. These are shot outdoors in bright sunshine. These scenes do not connect that well to the rest of the film. They give the film much needed air and light but the action outdoors almost feels as if it belongs in another film. The scenes of the children indulging in pranks and playing baseball do not undermine what follows because their importance becomes clear at the climax. Nevertheless they would have benefited from a link, if only having the mother or father watch the children from a distance.
The horror in this Venezuelan film is not caused by supernatural monsters. The ghosts when they appear are human beings whom time has mellowed. These ghosts have acquired some sense. The violence that does exist is created by the living. They feel claustrophobic pressure from others and have to exist without understanding time and how little has happened already and how much is yet to come.
La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos is a Catholic film intended for audiences in a Catholic country. The sensitive handsome priest is no surprise. He defines acceptable masculinity. He has the same capacity for nurture that mothers have. He also argues that the parallel worlds that exist inside the house are evidence that God exists. This is a moot point but the film is optimistic. Love and compassion, and possibly the will of God, do prevail when there is none of the nonsense of society to endure. Lone, independent and unambitious priests have been used often in movies as a reminder of the spiritual alternative that can exist for human beings. The priest has a similar role in this film. He clashes with the two policemen who guard the murderer. It is subtle left-wing politics. The compassion of the priest differs from the demands of authority and the profit seekers. The ending of the film is, in fact, sentimental but this is acceptable. The heroine has sacrificed a lot and she, and mothers like her, deserve a big pay off, even if she does demonstrate a confidence in future health services that is looking increasingly misplaced.
Horror fans need more than a warm understanding of the human heart. Despite the human sympathy the shocks that jolt the audience are delivered without shame and, to the credit of everyone, without excessive violence. The obese, blind and wheelchair-confined clairvoyant will appeal to those who believe that grotesquerie is essential for the self-respect of a horror film. The mate of the fortune-teller has a more conventional appearance but the large roughly rolled cigar that she smokes and her certainty give her an aggressive edge that makes her memorable. Her presence also confirms that gender politics are important to this film. Women have alternatives besides coy obedience to males, and these women are important to other women.
Although the movie is well filmed there is no upmarket polish for Venezuela. We see a working class family that is convincing, a house that is beyond their economic capabilities, and a neighbourhood that refreshed my own memories of South America. Venezuela has a poor population and in La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos the buildings are shabby. There are moments that show inspired thinking and an impressive attention to detail. Rodrigo, after he witnesses the accident of his brother, loses the curls in his hair. This detail is not explained. It is left for the audience to make the connection. Ruddy Rodriguez is the actress who plays Dulce when she is both young and old. In one shot we see the old Dulce walk along the hallway. An old stand-in is used so that the audience sees the legs of an older woman. In most movies the legs of Ruddy Rodriguez would have been used again but wrapped in thick stockings.
The title of La Casa Del Fin De Los Tiempos sounds overambitious. It requires an exceptional premise. The action in the film is sparked by the time of 11 hours, 11 minutes, 11 seconds, year 2011. This type of thing inspires people to write letters to the press. Alejandro Hidalgo, who wrote and directed the film, had more important things to think about than having a letter printed in his newspaper. Instead he found his exceptional premise and made a movie. No wonder he remembers his mother. She must have been something special. Ruddy Rodriguez has black hair, strong handsome features and memorable eyes, as my own mother had. How about that?
Howard Jackson has had five books published by Red Rattle Books. His latest book Choke Bay is now available here. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the other books of Howard Jackson and other great titles, click here.