By Scott Dorward
The House the at End of Time (Venezuela, 2013)
“We’re just puppets of this house, where time has come to an end”.
After yesterday’s vampire film with no vampires, we come to a haunted house tale with no ghosts. Or maybe that depends on how you define ghosts. From the ambiguous nature of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House to the shenanigans of The Old Dark House or Housebound, the genre is packed with houses that aren’t necessarily haunted but might as well be. The Venezuelan horror film The House at the End of Time falls neatly into this camp, offering us a weird and moving ghost story that falls outside normal bounds.
The House at the End of Time opens in medias res as Dulce, our protagonist, comes round after being knocked unconscious. She is lying in the remains of a broken mirror, a fresh cut across her face. Once she regains her bearings, Dulce tears through the house, arriving in the cellars. There, she finds the body of her husband, stabbed to death. Her young son, Leopoldo, stands ominously in a darkened doorway. Before Dulce has a chance to do anything, Leopoldo is snatched back into the darkness, never to be seen again.
Dulce is arrested and convicted of the murder of her husband. Thirty years later, she is given a conditional release, kept under house arrest in her former home.
And what a house this is! In some ways, the house is the star of the film. It’s certainly the title character. Built by an English occultist living in Venezuela in the early twentieth century, this is a building filled with eerie secrets. It was designed by a 33rd-degree mason, according to certain principles of sacred geometry, serving some hidden purpose. And, oddly, it has since been made available as free accommodation for families in financial hardship, such as Dulce’s.
From here on, the narrative switches back and forth between Dulce in the present and her entire family living in the house thirty years before. The flashbacks not only lay the groundwork for the tragedy we witnessed at the start but reveal how the family had been assailed by strange presences in the house beforehand.
As Dulce and her family try to understand what is happening to them, they are pushed headlong towards tragedy. But is their future entirely predetermined?
In many ways, The House at the End of Time feels like a Call of Cthulhu scenario. It has occult horrors from the past manifesting in the present. The house itself is a weird location filled with dark secrets; its cellars feel like something Lovecraft might have written about. A sense of doom pervades the film. And the actions of some of the characters, especially the priest who comes to comfort Dulce, feel like the kind of investigation you would see in a typical game.
One very minor frustration is that the occult aspects of the film are largely window dressing. It uses some general ideas and references — especially in relation to sacred geometry — but does no more than namecheck them. To be fair, that suits the purposes of the story just fine. It just would have been nice to see a little more detail.
The House at the End of Time is an unusual film. As I mentioned in the introduction, it has the trappings of a haunted house tale. Many of the scenes fit this, often to chilling effect. Ultimately, however, the payoff is something very different. This is a film about family ties, about the sacrifices parents make for their children, and about the nature of fate.
Despite this, The House at the End of Time is still a creepy film. From the disorientation of the opening scenes to the atmosphere and shocks of the later haunting, this is a film that knows how to engage and unnerve its audience. The house especially feels gloomy and oppressive, adding a sense of dread to even the most mundane scenes. Unfortunately, the film relies a little too much on cheap tricks like jump scares and characters walking backwards into peril, but not enough to spoil things.
After the amazingly naturalistic child acting of Tigers Are Not Afraid, the kids in The House at the End of Time come across as, well, acting. They’re not bad by any means, but their scenes feel a little artificial. Similarly, there is a detached, stagey feel to the cinematography that reminds me of 1970s Italian horror, but without the concomitant weirdness.
There is a significant reveal towards the end of the film that many horror fans will probably see coming a long way off. Once I had worked out what was going on, I worried that this would be all the ending had to offer. Happily, I was proved at least party wrong. The House at the End of Time finishes on a wonderfully bittersweet note, with a few surprises that utterly blindsided and delighted me. It’s rare to find a horror film that stirs up such a complex mixture of emotions.
All in all, I heartily recommend The House at the End of Time. While it has some rough edges, it should still grip, surprise and maybe even frighten you.
A Final Note
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!