The House At The End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos)
Venezuela (2013) Dir. Alejandro Hidalgo
It’s déjà vu time as the Korean remake of this film entitled House Of The Disappeared has already been reviewed on this site and now we get to appraise the original. This means there will be a lot of compare and contrast in this review but The House At The End of Time will be judged on its own merits as the cultural settings invite interesting differences in approach to the story and presentation.
The basic plot wasn’t altered too much in the Korean film so please bear with me for a little repetition in this synopsis. In 1981, Dulce (Ruddy Rodríguez) wakes up in her cellar to find her husband Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero) bleeding to death from a stab wound to the neck, and her eldest son Leopoldo (Rosmel Bustamante) suddenly disappears before her eyes.
Dulce is arrested for the murder of both despite Leopoldo’s body never being found and serves a 30-year prison sentence. Her ailing health means she is allowed to serve the remainder of her sentence under house arrest at the old house where the crimes took place. A young priest (Guillermo Garcia) visits Dulce to offer her the chance to restore her faith in God but Dulce insists the house it responsible for the horrors that occurred.
Remakes are always tricky but as suggested above, some filmmakers are able to inject something new into them via the geographical translocation of the story. Since this is the original, it is what director Lim Dae-woong and his co-writer Jang Jae-Hyun chose to change for the Korean version that makes Alejandro Hidalgo’s so fascinating.
With the remake almost a beat for beat copy of Hidalgo’s central story, it is the wider details that separate them. It begins with small things like Dulce’s jail time being five years longer than Korean counterpart Mi-Hee and her husband being a stern labourer and not an openly brutish police officer.
The first stand out difference is in the relationship of the two brothers – Rodrigo (Hector Mercado) is the younger half-sibling to Leopoldo with him being the product of Dulce’s first marriage. In this film, there is some antagonism to the point of bullying and their tearaway antics are far more malicious than their Korean opposites. Also, while both deaths were accidental, Leopoldo was directly involved in Rodrigo’s passing.
With Christianity being much more ingrained in South American life than in Asia, the presence of the priest has greater relevance than in the Korean film, the same applying to the fortuneteller Dulce visits. However, the priest only appears sparingly which, in lieu of the significance of his identity and ties with the family, undermines this importance and how it plays into the denouement.
It would have been nice to expand on Dulce’s faith in the flashbacks to make her rejection of God in her later years appear a bigger deal and give the priest’s exploration into the house’s history a greater urgency. But again, maybe it was taken as read that Dulce would be a devout or at least practicing Christian given her culture in comparison to its lesser prevalence in Korea.
Also underdeveloped is the history of the house and the mysterious fate of its previous owners from decades before Dulce and Juan José got it for peanuts – it’s brought up a part of the priest’s investigations then never mentioned again. The Korean version also ties the house’s history in with its own to create a malicious mythos for the supernatural horrors that occur but Hidalgo doesn’t both with that – the house is possessed, end of.
This isn’t a criticism of Hidalgo’s film nor am I suggesting the Korean version is necessarily better – they both have their own strong points. The latter handles the time travelling explanations with more thought and credibility, yet overdoes the horror aspect by filling the house with ghostly figures and apparitions. By eschewing this and keeping it in the family so to speak, the horror in this version has more tragedy and chilling poignancy behind it.
Both films end on an emotional crescendo and even manage to share a same joke along the way but the journey Hidalgo put his characters through feels the more exhausting and traumatic of the two. Clearly, the smaller budget and setting of suburban Venezuela makes for a grittier and darker experience although rural Korea is well versed in hosting horror stories.
Something both films boast is a strong performance from its leading ladies and picking one over the other in this instance simply can’t be done as they both offer unique interpretations of their characters. As a product of the script and their individual cultural sensibilities both woman may approach their predicaments from different angles but the resolution of protective mother is a shared driving force in both.
Admittedly the make-up for the elderly Dulce is nowhere near as convincing as Mi-Hee’s but Ruddy Rodríguez is possibly more astute in playing an older version of herself. Gonzalo Cubero is undeniably a scarier husband, the emotional torture driving Juan José makes him truly menacing, whilst Guillermo Garcia is unspeakably bland as the priest. In contrast the two youngsters Rosmel Bustamante and Hector Mercado are full of charisma yet also believable as terrified victims.
Despite being five years since this film’s release, Alejandro Hidalgo has yet to make a follow up. In this debut, Hidalgo shows a knack for creating a tense, nervous atmosphere and can rock and audience without the use of jump scares, relying on performance and the camera to do all the work.
Whether you prefer The House At The End of Time or House Of The Disappeared it can be agreed that both films offer a fresh and emotional twist to an established concept that doesn’t take any easy ways out ahead of reaching its conclusion. The low-key production might work in favour of this version for some but each have their strengths.
Definitely worth a look.