Rosmel Bustamante as Leopoldo
Adriana Calzadilla as Vidente Adriana
Simona Chirinos as Madame Victoria
Gonzalo Cubero as Juan José
This is The House of the End of Times, a remarkable effort from Venezuelan writer/director Alejandro Hidalgo.
Dulce (played by the wonder that is Ruddy Rodriguez) is a mother of two, in a loveless and strained marriage. Her precocious children, Leopoldo and Rodrigo dream of playing baseball when they grow up and have a competitive but healthy relationship. Fast forward 30 years, when Dulce is released from prison after having served time for the murder of her husband and son Leopoldo. Back to the dilapidated family home she goes (one heck of a location find) to find the same strange apparitions, painful memories and dark mysteries she left behind.
What actually happened in that house? With the help of a local priest and a blind medium, Dulce uncovers many of the secrets this house keeps so well hidden. And each scene of discovery proves to be a rich layer on top of an even richer layer for the audience to find out right along with her. There are some real whoppers uncovered here!
I can’t recall a horror picture, other than 2011’s fantastic Absentia, where I loved the characters so deeply and was so mired in their emotional journey, that when the end credits rolled across the screen, I was a sobbing, blubbering mess. I know it’s not usual protocol to carry along tissues to a scary movie (and this film is terrifying), but it might be a wise proactive gesture to stock up on at least one of those little travel packs of tissues. You have been warned.
The journey and eventual revelations about the events 30 years ago, are awe-inspiring and truly mind-boggling. Once the secrets begin to unveil themselves, it became a snowball effect of, “Oh my God! So that was that and this was this and NO WAY!” And the fascinating thing is that I was (and most others were as well, it seemed) completely taken by surprise. This film and the world it created, is not at all what you would initially think. It’s painful and deep and terrifying and please pardon this curse, a “mind-f***”. But honestly, there’s no other way to paint an accurate picture of what this film does to you. And just when you think Hidalgo can’t throw another curveball (the kids play a lot of baseball – a detail taken from Hidalgo’s own childhood – so this metaphor is apt), another startling reveal comes up and there you are wiping away a brand new batch of tears.
The buzz around Screamfest was that this was the flick to see. And it starts off promising, if a little bit slow. But then the dominoes begin to fall, and you can understand what Hidalgo is up to, so you can sit back and escape (or sit forward and scream), as it’s clear you’re in the hands of a master.
The performances are all just heart-breaking. Ruddy Rodriguez (a huge star in Venezuela and a former Miss Venezuela World) has a Diane Lane quality, both in her look and in her abilities. She plays Dulce at both ages (the old-age makeup was not perfect, but if that’s the only complaint of this film, then take it as a very promising sign). She cries, she screams, she hurts. And there’s not one moment in her performance where her abilities lapsed. Dulce is an ideal and perfect capture of Rodriguez’s gifts.
And the children! Holy cow, the children! Roswell Bustamante and Hector Mercado play Leopoldo and Rodrigo, respectively. These kids sell it. Whether they’re being happy and go-lucky children — throwing urine-filled balloons at one another, enjoying a blossoming first love with a neighborhood girl, or whether they’re working through the harsh situations in a poor home-life… and especially when they’re up against the solid barricade of the house’s secrets. They have wonderful chemistry opposite one another, and more than once in the picture, tears were shed over their special relationship and where their mutual love takes them. And Roswell, man – that kid can cry!
Don’t let the emotional rawness of the film keep you away. It’s also light-hearted at points, laugh out loud funny (one line at the very end of the flick was a perfect example of a tension release – Hidalgo knows how to play you) and 99% of the time, the film is wrought with suspense, “a-ha” revelations and some of the best “boo” moments a horror nerd could ask for. Hidalgo is able to keep up that level of unease and suspense all the way throughout. No wonder we’re all emotional wrecks at the end. It was exhausting!
The film is called, “La Casa del fin de los Tiempos”. I know on good authority that most of the translations are getting it wrong. And this is important, as it changes up the meaning. Everyone (including IMDb and Screamfest – where the film receieved its U.S. premiere) is calling it, “The House at the End of Time”, but my understanding is that is should be, “The House of the End of Times”. See the difference? As far as the structure and content of the film, either kinda fits the bill, but I’ll go with the correct one, thank you very much.
The film enjoyed a nine month stay in Venezuelan theatres, and became one of the top grossing films in that country – EVER! And there are whispers that Alejandro is in talks with some Hollywood big-wigs for rights to his masterpiece. He even told us that he’s been taking several meetings during his brief stay in the U.S. And of course that means we could be looking at a glossed-over remake ala every single Asian horror idea imported over the past decade. Just keep your fingers crossed that Alejandro doesn’t get the shaft from these folks, as his obvious storytelling talents and just overall awesomeness are not to be corrupted. Have I made myself clear?
One other glowing recommendation for this film: It was on a short list for Venezuela’s entry to the Foreign Film category of the Academy Awards. Exactly.
With an atmosphere of dread similar to The Others (one of Hidalgo’s inspirations), and a look likeThe Orphanage (another inspiration), the comparisons can justifiably end there. Hidalgo has spun a tale like no other and this universe is all his own.
Directly after the screening, I was able to pull Hidalgo aside and respectfully gush before asking a few questions.
Klug: “Where did the idea come from?”
Hidalgo: “I have an obsession with fate and destiny, and I wanted to know if a human being can change his destiny or is it already written? And the whole story was constructed on the pure emotion of a mother’s love.”
Klug: “By making the film, did your idea of altering your own destiny change?”
Hidalgo: “The closest answer that I got to was that man does what he can until destiny reveals itself.”
Hidalgo’s destiny is about to be sealed. He’s got a long and fruitful storytelling life ahead of him. And based on the performance of this particular family’s tale in this exact house in this specific time – we as the audience are in for an amazing ride with him at the helm. Is it too much to say, “thank you” to Alejandro? ‘Cause I already did, several geeky times.
To the readers: If I were standing in front of you, staring into your eyes and speaking directly to you, this is what I’d say: “Look at my face and listen to my voice” (a borrowed and paraphrased quote from the film).
Do whatever is within your power to see The House of the End of Times. If not for the fact that it’s about to explode here in the US and you can say, “I saw this before it was a monster hit or a poorly Americanized remake”, then do it for the journey it will inevitably take you on. Do it for the catharsis, the mystery, the love of cinema. Treat yourself, and marvel at what Hidalgo has created (over 15 drafts were written – as Hidalgo explained that each time a new story quirk was realized, he would have to go back and start over to accommodate such a change – every detail in this film is important and intentional) and how he was able to pull this off when no one in his homeland believed in him or his remarkable tale.
Just let go and allow yourself to get lost in this one.