The House at the End of Time (2013)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

“I have told you many times before that the only ones here are your little brother, you, me – and dad.”

With these words, Dulce (Ruddy Rodriguez) is trying to comfort her son Leopoldo (Rosmel Bustamante), who is jealous of the greater attention she lavishes on his younger brother Rodrigo (Héctor Mercado). All this, however, is a flashback to 30 years ago – and now the aged Dulce has just been released on compassionate grounds from prison, to live out her last days in the relative comfort of house arrest. Her sentence was for the fatal stabbing of her husband Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero) and the presumed murder of Leopoldo, whose body was never found. Dulce, however, insists that she never touched the knife buried in Juan José’s shoulder, even if her fingerprints were all over it – and she also knows that she had nothing to do with Leopoldo’s disappearance (from an exit-less cellar, no less). “They did it! The intruders! They killed my husband and took my child away,” old Dulce tells a priest (Guillermo García). Now back in the old house and haunted by memories of events and irruptions that offered no rational explanation, Dulce – lonely, terrified and deeply bitter despite her name – is again being visited by one of those intruders, armed with a huge kitchen knife.

Told in a series of chronology-leaping flashbacks, The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos) is a locked-room mystery that dresses itself in the guise of a classic ghost story (and even features a pair of medium sisters straight out of Don’t Look Now), but eventually, ingeniously, explains itself with an alternative apparatus. The great intricacy of its paradoxical plotting only really becomes apparent in retrospect, and will have you mentally revisiting its rooms and corridors for some time afterwards – although getting to that final big reveal also involves wading through much irksomely sentimental melodrama (accompanied by an overstated score), with the rather colourless and unsympathetic Dulce as our only guide. Which is to say that the film replays in the head much better than it plays on the screen.

Like The Sixth Sense (1999), The Others (2001) and Haunter (2013), Alejandro Hidalgo’s feature debut (as writer, director, producer and editor) reverse-engineers the tropes and trappings of haunted house gothic, before eventually emerging into the light looking like something rather different, from the other side of genre. Yet for all its clever-clever inversion of causal norms, it is perhaps likely to go down in history not for its ideas so much as for being Venezuela’s first supernatural genre film. You might say it’s ahead of its time…

Anton Bitel