Venezuela. Directed by Alejandro Hidalgo, 2013. Starring Ruddy Rodríguez, Gonzalo Cubero, Rosmel Bustamante. 100 minutes. In Spanish, with English subtitles.
No relation to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, The House at the End of Time is a rambling, decaying manor the struggling Fernandez family bought on the cheap. In 1981, Juan Jose Fernandez was stabbed to death, his son Leopoldo disappeared mysteriously, and family matriarch Dulce was convicted of murdering them both–although she claimed her innocence, blaming the house for both crimes. Thirty years later, the government releases her to live in the mysterious estate under house arrest. That’s when the weirdness starts happening again…
Many sources classify The House at the End of Time as a horror movie but a more accurate description would be supernatural thriller. The production design is suitably creepy and there are a few scary moments and scenes of violence, but overall, the mood is not that of horror but of mystery.
Writer/director Alejandro Hidalgo doesn’t so much construct a story as a puzzle. Dulce (with the help of a local priest she befriends) must solve the House using the plot beats as pieces, and everything fits together just so. Unfortunately, House falls prey to a common symptom of “puzzle movies”: the plot feels overly mechanical instead of developing organically, like something deliberately constructed for the characters’ benefit. It doesn’t damage the film’s overall effect, but it did cause me to keep a certain amount of emotional distance from the film.
Hidalgo proves a fine director with a strong command of atmosphere and pace, although some of the score cues work to cross purposes. For example, the light-hearted music that accompanies the baseball sequences made me wonder if I’d somehow managed to come across a Spanish-language remake of The Sandlot.
However, the core strength of the film is Hidalgo’s grasp of family dynamics and human nature. He portrays the disintegrating relationship between Dulce and Juan Jose with sensitivity and attention to the situation’s complexity; even when they aren’t particularly pleasant to each other (which is often), the audience has a good grasp of how they got to where they are. That being said, the final shift between the two seems a bit sudden; I feel Hidalgo should have started building towards it earlier, more gradually and (honestly) a bit more obviously.
Hidalgo develops the relationship between the Fernandez children, Leopoldo and Rodrigo, similarly well: two brothers who don’t always get along and give each other a lot of guff but ultimately love each other very much. However, Hidalgo does over-play his hand a bit by focusing too much on Leo in the opening phases, making for some obvious foreshadowing. Strong performances complement the characterization all around, with child actors Rosmel Bustamante (as Leopoldo) and Héctor Mercado (as Rodrigo) being the standouts.
The House at the End of Time has some flaws, but is overall an enjoyable, engaging mystery-thriller with a satisfyingly honest emotional center.