“We’re just puppets of this house, where time has come to an end.”
Time Travel Month continues at SAW with our rankings of Movies With the Word “Time” in the Title and Romona Comet’s review of Palm Springs. On Fear Flashback we’re checking out 2013, when Venezuela had a promising film industry and a surprise horror hit with a twisty time thriller from first time director Alejandro Hidalgo.
This was a cool little surprise of a film for me, as I had heard nothing about it whatsoever and I remember choosing it basically to make a double feature of Spanish language time-travel horror films with Timecrimes. It was billed as the first Venezuelan horror movie and given the level of quality I had high hopes for more films from the country. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out that way – though Hidalgo is apparently in post-production on his second film, the provocatively titled The Exorcism of God.
I haven’t watched it since that first viewing and I’m hard pressed now to come up with a reason why. It’s a good film, and I enjoyed it a lot. I’ve certainly rewatched other films that made less of an impression on me. And now that I think of it, maybe that’s the reason. There was an emotional core to The House at the End of Time that bordered on being maudlin and, while it never crossed that line on an initial viewing, I think I’ve worried that a second watch would ruin that impression. I try to not let fear dictate my choices – at least as much as I can – so let’s set that concern aside and take another look.
I watched The House at the End of Time on Amazon Prime. It’s also available streaming for subs on Hoopla and for free on Tubi (with ads). It can be rented or purchased at a number of online streaming vendors. There’s no region A Blu-ray release, unfortunately, but a bare-bones DVD was released.
The House at the End of Time is concerned primarily with two frames of time. There’s the present (of 2011), where we follow the life of Dulce (Ruddy Rodriquez), a woman who was jailed 30 years ago for the crime of murdering her husband, Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero) and presumably her son Leopoldo (Rosmel Bustamante), though his body was never found. She’s been returned to her house, where those events occurred, as a form of house arrest – this is apparently a ‘benefit’ afforded to elderly prisoners. It also seems very much like an additional form of punishment.
The second time frame is 30 years prior and deals with the days running up to the events that lead to Juan José’s murder, Leo’s disappearance and Dulce’s incarceration. Because the film starts in-media-res we know that Dulce is not a murderess and that something very strange happened to her son. Dulce awakens with a wound on her face and finds Juan José with a knife in his neck. Something or someone grabs Leo and takes him into a large sub-basement. There are no exits from that strange labyrinth, but he could not be found.
For much of the early parts of the film it feels more like a melodrama, with a family in conflict. Dulce has married an older man and their marriage is one of disappointment, accusations, avoidance and one terrible secret. There are two boys, with Leo being the older son and Rodrigo (Hector Mercado) the younger. There is conflict between them as well, with Leo struggling to be the more grown-up and responsible one. He resents his younger brother’s closeness with their mother as well as his success at baseball and his friendship with a young girl.
In the present the now elderly Dulce is visited by the local priest (Guillermo Garcia), who runs an orphanage. He wants to know what really happened and becomes Dulce’s friend and confidant as she begins to tell him the truth about what happened all those years ago.
And what happened is complicated. Strange things began to occur in the house. Someone tries to enter locked rooms at night, a hand grabs Dulce’s hair, a figure moves from room to room, scaring Rodrigo, and someone gives Leo a note to pass on to his mother. A note that says that Juan José will kill Leo.
The increasing creepiness is handled really well and is echoed in strange events that begin to happen in the present. The lights flicker. An old man with a knife starts to appear and disappear. The numbers 11-11-11-11 show up in blood on a mirror. The house, it turns out, was abandoned by the original owner, an architect and Freemason, many years ago and was appropriated by the state. In fact – as the priest discovers – many people have disappeared within the house over the years.
In the past a tragic accident results in the death of the young Rodrigo. In the aftermath Juan José discovers Dulce’s secret, and it’s one that pushes him over the edge.
Things begin to escalate and move toward an intense but satisfying climax that had me teary eyed in a few spots, even though a number of plot elements were telegraphed well ahead of time. The ending was overtly maudlin, but I still didn’t really care – I’d totally bought in by that point. Unlike previous installments in my Time Travel Horror reviews I’m not going to spoil much more, other than to say that there are a lot of things that seem like coincidences that aren’t (and a lot of actual coincidences that clutter things up and stretch credulity – but like I said, I totally bought in, so they didn’t really bother me). It all fits together nicely, as a good time-travel story should, and if it became a little predictable after a while, it was still well handled.
The director and screenwriter, Alejandro Hidalgo, likes to present us with before/after images. We see a lot of the same framing for scenes set in the different time frames, with dissolves or simple cuts showing us the same thing in the past and in the present. The story and characterizations are well done and the acting – even for the kids – is above average. If there are things that let the production down a little they’re things small things like some sub-par makeup work. That wig for “Old Dulce” is local theater level bad. Generally, however, it’s an exceptionally well-made first film.
The Bottom Line
I really enjoyed The House at the End of Time, even on a second viewing, and I can’t think of many horror films where I’ve had a ‘dust in my eye’ reaction to the course of events. It may not surprise you with its twists and turns, but it’s still a good story and worth a watch.