This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,500 (which, when matched by my employer, totals $3,000). As a result, I now have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies: one each night. Any donors who contributed over $30 were given the option to choose one of the horror movies I must subject myself to. After each viewing, I will write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers, and many of them will refer to unpleasant and potentially triggering situations. Today’s film was chosen by friend and generous donor Kat Meyer: The House at the End of Time (or La casa del fin de los tiempos), directed by Alejandro Hidalgo. The 2014 film has the honour of being the first ever supernatural horror film from Venezuela! You can find it on the Shudder streaming service.
Trigger warnings: suicide, domestic violence.
The House at the End of Time begins, as the Latin-speaking kids like to say, in medias res. After an establishing shot of the titular house, we see a woman rouse from where she’s sprawled on the floor. There’s a nasty cut across her cheek and mirror shards sprinkled around her. She arms herself with a large mirror shard and finds the house in total disarray. Taking a lantern, she follows the sound of a loud groan and heads into the dark basement, calling for “Leopaldo.” Instead of Leopaldo, she finds the body of someone named Juan José (Gonzalo Cubero), who has been stabbed to death. In a shock scare, the prone man clutches her, but after a short struggle, he falls back dead. Then our protagonist sees Leopaldo (Rosmel Bustamante), a young child standing in a darkened doorway. Our heroine calls to him. He begins to move toward her, then is sucked back into the dark room and the door slams behind him. The woman continues past the closed door, down into the depths beneath the house, where there are some sort of catacombs. The lights fade.
The film cuts to our protagonist, Dulce (Ruddy Rodriguez), receiving a life sentence for the murder of her husband Juan José and son Leopaldo. Thirty years later, Dulce – now an elderly woman – has been released into a sort of house arrest. She returns to her home where the murders took place, but the house will be monitored by two police officers at all times. Returning to her home, she flashes back to happier times: 1981. Her sons Leopaldo and the younger Rodrigo (Héctor Mercado) wolf down a breakfast as fast as possible before they run out to play. Her memories are interrupted by the arrival of the Parish Father (Guillermo Garcia), a young man who wants to have a chat.
Dulce notes that she stopped believing in God a long time ago, but the priest says he doesn’t believe she was responsible for her family members’ deaths. After all, he runs an orphanage, and knows that once you see the smile of a child, you simply cannot murder him. (Seems like a really naïve priest.) Dulce guides the priest to the catacombs underneath the house. When he asks her what they are for, she says she doesn’t know; the catacombs have always been under the house since she moved in. This is the spot where she last saw one of her children. The priest notes her fingerprints were all over the knife, and she was covered in her husband and child’s blood. If she didn’t kill them, who did? Dulce says the house itself did it.
Back in the past, Leopaldo and Rodrigo join their Venezuelan Little Rascals crew and get up to various shenanigans: playing baseball, filling water balloons with urine and tossing them at stuffy businessmen – kids’ stuff. Both Leo and Rodrigo are in love with the same girl, Sarai (Yucemar Morales), a conflict that leads Leopaldo to hurl a piss bomb at Rodrigo and the two to scrap. After a day of Sandlot-esque fun, they return home well after dark. They do their best to act cute to avoid their mother’s wrath, but it doesn’t work out so well for Leopaldo, who is older and supposed to be a role model.
While Rodrigo is free to go to bed, Leopaldo must stay up as punishment. Leo is a bit spooked by the old house, so Dulce gives him a pearl, saying it’s a little moon and will protect him. Juan José arrives home and apologizes for being late, saying he was helping a friend with his truck. Dulce, however, is not sympathetic: Juan José has been out of work for a while, and she has no food to feed their children. Juan José pleads for Dulce to give him time: it’s hard for an old man to find a job. Frustrated by his wife’s disappointment, he then abruptly leaves for the bar. Dulce locks and chains the door behind him.
Not long after, the door knob begins to shake and there’s a pounding at the door, but when Dulce looks out the window, Juan José is already well down the road. Someone else is trying to get in! Rodrigo, in his bedroom, becomes frightened when he notices his door knob shake and a pounding against the door. In the main room, Dulce watches in horror as the door opens as far as the chain will allow. She peers out the opening, but sees nothing. Yet, as soon as she turns her back, an arm grabs her and holds her back. She breaks free and stabs the door with scissors (shades of Inside), but the intruder has departed. Back in Rodrigo’s bedroom, whoever was outside enters. Rodrigo hides himself under his blanket. Through the scrim of the blanket, we can see a child approaching. As soon as the figure pulls off the blanket, the film cuts to Dulce, who hears a child scream.
Dulce runs downstairs, but trips and smashes her toenail. She continues on, retrieving a large knife from the kitchen, then heading back up another set of stairs. She runs into Leopaldo and asks why he screamed. Leopaldo says it wasn’t him; it was Rodrigo. She continues on to Rodirgo’s room, but Rodrigo says everything is fine. He was just a little startled by Leopaldo, who was messing around.
The next morning, the Inspector (Miguel Flores) interviews the family about the attempted break-in. Dulce and her family have been living in the house for five years, and this is the first weirdness they’ve experienced. When they moved in, the house had been abandoned for a while. The government was selling it at an unusually good price. Dulce’s story doesn’t add up, but the Inspector isn’t sure what to make of it. After he leaves, Leopaldo approaches his mother in private. He says he saw the intruder, but she didn’t hurt him. Instead, the intruder told him he shouldn’t play with his brother Rodrigo. Furthermore, she gave him a note that Dulce is supposed to read. Dulce unfolds it, but won’t tell Leopaldo what it says. (But she looks troubled by the message.)
In the present day (2011), the priest visits the Archivo Historico and researches Dulce’s case. Strangely, in 1921, there was another family disappearance – the Eckharts – at the same house. And again, more mysterious family deaths in 1951. Old Dulce washes up in her bathroom and is shocked when the mirror reveals an old man wielding a knife behind her. She slams the door shut on the old man. When she feels it’s safe, she sneaks out and calls for the police from the top of the stairs. She then continues to her bedroom and sees it’s been ransacked and the number “11” is written (seemingly in blood) several times across the mirror. A ghostly hand grabs at her again as she leaves, so she locks herself in. The thing bangs incessantly at the door and finally barges in – but it’s revealed as the police from outside. False alarm!
The priest visits Dulce to tell her what he’s learned from his research and is informed by her police guards that Dulce claims to be seeing ghosts. She probably needs psychological help. The priest asks Dulce what happened and she tells him about the ghost of an old man holding a knife. When Dulce sees the priest doubts her, she bitterly jokes that it’s odd for a man of God to have no interest in ghost stories. Changing the subject, the priest tells her the house was built by an English Mason, Irahim Eckhart, who was obsessed with building on this very spot. He said it would show the truth of creation.
Back in the 1980s, Juan José, ignorant of the mysterious intruder’s warning, allows Leopaldo and Rodrigo out to play. Dulce is outraged, saying the kids are forbidden from playing together. When Juan José is confused by this restriction, Dulce confides in him and shows him the note Leopaldo handed her. It reads: “Juan José will kill your son.” Feeling accused, Juan José begins to tear up. Dulce decides she needs to leave, she wants a divorce. Juan José looks more disheartened. Dulce says it’s not just the note. Things have been bad for a while. However, when Juan José realizes she intends to take the kids, too, he grabs her angrily and begins to squeeze her in a disturbing bear hug. He threatens Dulce that she should not try to take his boys from him.
Leopaldo, meanwhile, spies on Rodrigo making time with Sarai. Rodrigo gives her a gift of a pearl – a “little moon” – and kisses her on the cheek. She punches him at first, but is about to return the kiss when Leo calls Rodrigo home. Sarai and Rodrigo are now on boyfriend / girlfriend terms. The young Dulce seeks out a fortune teller. She visits Victoria (Simona Chirinos), a blind medium. Victoria’s sister, who acts as a manager, explains that Victoria nearly died years ago. The accident left her paralyzed from the waist down and blind, but she can now lives in the world of the living and the dead. She can see beyond time. They travel to Dulce’s house to conduct a seance. Victoria’s sister tells Dulce to close her eyes and not open them, no matter what she hears: “Sometimes our eyes can be our worst enemies.”
The audience sits in darkness and we hear a ghost enter the room. Victoria channels a conversation between a father and son. The father is angry, shouting that Rodrigo is his only son. Then the ghost of an old man with a knife grabs Dulce’s shoulder. She freaks out and opens her eyes, causing the mystical seance to end. Outside, the gang of kids plays baseball. Rodrigo pitches a ball to Leopaldo, who hits a solid line drive – right into his brother’s forehead, killing him instantly.
A funeral follows, as well as a thinking montage featuring the priest. He thinks a lot about the number “11.” After all, Dulce’s youngest child, Rodrigo, was buried on November 11. And November 11, 2011 (11-11-11) is just around the corner. He runs to tell old Dulce this revelation, just as she’s about to cut open her wrist with a knife. The priest’s sudden arrival prevents her from completing the act, though Dulce insists she has no reason to live. She survived prison hoping she could find her missing son, Leopaldo, afterward, but it seems this was a pipe dream. One the police officers guarding the house steps in, realizing the priest has broken in when it’s not visitor day, and kicks the holy father out.
Following Rodrigo’s funeral in 1981, Juan José treats himself to a mourning smoke, but drops his pipe. As he bends down to retrieve it, he discovers a box of keepsakes under the bed. Inside the box is a letter from one of Dulce’s former lovers, Leopaldo Rodriguez, that reveals Leopaldo is not Juan José’s biological child!
At 11:11 PM (plus 11 seconds) on November 11, 2011, all hell breaks loose. What is revealed, obliquely, is that on that date, the house becomes a sort of time nexus. So, the old Dulce, when she tries to get into her room, is the hand that grabs young Dulce in 1981. Likewise, the figure who enters Rodrigo’s room in 1981 is Leopaldo, just as Rodrigo says – but a Leopaldo from the day of Rodrigo’s funeral. Old Dulce, after trying to break in, reveals to Leopaldo that she’s an older version of his mother. She hands him the note about Juan José, as well as the message not to play with his brother. (Though she specifies not to play with him for three days, something that Leo later omits. Never trust a kid.) Leopaldo asks his future mom what he will be when he grows up. Dulce heartbreakingly answers, “the best baseball player ever.”
Post-funeral Leopaldo gives the still-alive Rodrigo his “little moon” pearl. The old man with the knife leaps out at old Dulce and leads her downstairs, into the catacombs. Leopaldo, meanwhile, goes to Juan José and tells him he has seen Rodrigo. They embrace, but Juan José, wrecked by the information Leo is not his child, holds a knife to his neck. He then throws his step-son to the ground and threatens him with the knife, saying he’s not his real son. Leo killed his only son, Rodrigo.
Young Dulce walks in on this terrifying bit of family drama and tries to calm her husband down. He lashes out at her, slashing Dulce’s face with the knife and smashing her head into the mirror (which is where the film opens). Old Dulce, meanwhile, learns the knife-wielding man is her son, Leopaldo, though much older. He shows her the pearl as evidence. He’s from the year 2071, and explains that time has come to an end in the house. Right now, his younger self is being menaced by Juan José and the only thing that saves him is his mother. He then hands old Dulce the knife: she must kill Juan José and save the young him. Further, she must abduct young him, as he will develop heart disease, which cannot be cured if he continues on from 1981.
Leopaldo hides in the basement, but Juan José pursues him. He corners his step-son and is just about to slide the knife into the child’s gut when old Dulce stabs him in the shoulder and kills him. When she hears her younger self coming, old Dulce hides. But then she remembers old Leopaldo’s words and grabs his twelve-year-old version, dragging him into the catacombs. The opening scene has now been explained, as has how Dulce’s fingerprints were on the murder weapon.
Dulce tells the priest this story, and asks if God will forgive her. He doesn’t answer, but Dulce brings him to her room to see the twelve-year-old Leopaldo that she kidnapped from 1981. The priest takes a long look at the child, then does a secret handshake with him. The priest is one of Leo’s childhood gang! Dulce says she cannot take care of a child at her advanced age; rhe priest must take Leo to his orphanage, where (presumably) he will get the futuristic medical care he needs for his heart disease. The priest leaves Dulce’s house with the twelve-year-old child, which leads to some questions from the police officers guarding the house. But the priest explains he’s one of his orphans.
Leopaldo asks the priest if he’ll ever see Rodrigo again, and the priest says he may, after he dies. At the end of time. To conclude the film, the priest introduces young Leopaldo to the now grown Sarai, and says “Amen.” (Whether Leopaldo is adopted by his former crush is left to the viewer’s imagination.)
- I enjoyed The House at the End of Time because, as you might expect from the title, it’s all about time paradoxes. As my wife asked, “Is this a movie about ghosts haunting other ghosts?” And it sort of is. How can old Leopaldo exist if he hasn’t yet instructed old Dulce to kill Juan José? How can Leopaldo have the pearl as an old man if he gave it to past Rodrigo? How does old Dulce know that Juan José will try to kill Leopaldo before she sees him do it? Why is old Leopaldo half-naked? The house in this film is a place where – on certain anniversaries (November 11) – everything has always happened and everything is simultaneously happening. The only curious part is that the previous house owners never came into play, though that perhaps would have been even more confusing. But the thematic effect of the film is that – in all iterations, in all timelines – Dulce loves her son, Leopaldo. After all, she kills for him, knowing it will result in her younger self’s incarceration. But she knows that on November 11 in 2011, they’ll all be alive and together (in multiple iterations). It’s almost romantic. Like a murder-filled Lake House.
- The House at the End of Time also aptly visualizes the slow but sure transformation from male frustration to (murderous) male rage. Though Juan José is initially a sympathetic character, obviously struggling with his failures, he begins to twist over the course of the film. His frustration with himself becomes menace toward his wife and eventually violence toward her and his child. The character arc is not particularly novel, but I appreciated that Juan José was not portrayed as a villain from the get-go. It was a slow burn from frustrated man to domestic killer, and that slower arc is more accurate to reality and more valuable in depicting how these relationships devolve.
- I question the accuracy of Dulce’s unusual house arrest. After serving thirty years in prison, would the Venezuelan authorities really return her to her home, but pay two police officers to monitor her 24-7? That seems like a huge, unnecessary expense – especially for a convict who’s already spent decades in prison.
- Venezuela’s horror industry has started off strong. This isn’t the scariest film, but it’s a great twisty thriller. And, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s a good sign there’s already been a Korean remake called House of the Disappeared.
Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: The scary elements of The House at the End of Time consist almost entirely of jump scares, and after a while, you learn to expect characters will back into frightening things that leap into the frame. But the lack of real chills doesn’t mean it’s not worth your while. The film is a worthwhile thriller, especially if you’re fond of time paradoxes (and I am).
Best outfit: The priest in The House at the End of Time is looking mighty fine. That’s a nicely tailored vestment right there.
Best line: “A mother is God in the eyes of her children.” – the priest, again with that Pollyana attitude toward parent-child relationships.
Best kill: There’s no way a grimly comic death like killing your younger brother with a baseball is not going to top my list.
Unexpected cameo: I’m not an expert in Venezuelan film, but the priest, Guillermo Garcia has had other significant roles, including a star turn in romantic drama My Straight Son.
Unexpected lesson learned: Venezuela is just a few years away from curing heart disease.
Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Archivo Historico.
Next up: Night of the Lepus (1972).