Movie Review: The House of the Devil (2009)

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles‘s computer.

After my love affair with The Innkeepers last year, I’ve been excited to see Ti West’s first film, The House of the Devil. The main thing I knew about it was that it was a similar slow-burn horror-thriller with a lady protagonist and that it was released on vhs as a reference to its 1980s setting and inspiration. Jocelin Donahue stars as Samantha, a college sophomore who is struggling financially but for some reason has just taken out a lease on a house. She accepts a dubious but well-paid “babysitting” job out of desperation, and GETS MORE THAN SHE BARGAINED FOR MUAHAHAHAHHAHAHA.

This is a movie that takes its time, and while generally I like that in a horror story, West’s restraint continues even up to the final moments. It takes about 30 minutes for Samantha to get to the titular house, then she spends about 40 minutes hanging out by herself and wondering what’s up with the spooky family that hired her. THEN there’s all this crazy devil cult stuff for a little bit and then it’s over. It felt like too much waiting for too little payoff. Not that the final scenes aren’t cool, it’s just all over pretty quickly. Had the main character been more interesting or charismatic I would have been fine spending all this down-time with her (that’s one thing I loved about The Innkeepers), but while she is sympathetic, I feel like I didn’t get to know her at all. She’s sort of closed-off. Greta Gerwig as her best friend Megan is oozing with enough personality and energy for the both of them, but she’s out of the picture earlier on (her final scene is totally rad, though). Mary Woronov is probably my favorite part, because she’s Mary Fucking Woronov, and she gets to be creepy as hell.

The film is set in the 1980s as a way of paying tribute to horror films of that period, with West laying his love for the time on thick as retro tunes blare out of Sam’s headphones and her big hair bops around and grainy visuals entice the eye. The 80s-ness was a little on the nose, I thought, but it did help give the film a very specific atmosphere, which I assume was West’s intention. He aptly builds the tension gradually throughout, and I was holding my breath more than once as I worried for unsuspecting Sam. But the actual scary part wasn’t all that scary, and everything went by too fast. Plus there’s a weirdness to the very last moment, wherein a person survives something they shouldn’t have survived and it didn’t make sense to me. Huh.

Anyway, I can appreciate The House of Devil in many ways, but ultimately I wasn’t too impressed with it. Some great moments and a nice aesthetic, but as a horror movie it wasn’t incredibly effective. I can see how West’s style and approach developed into something great for The Innkeepers, though, which is similar in a lot of ways but ultimately much more satisfying.


Pair This Movie With: There are some parallels with Halloween, which I believe is one of the films he drew from.

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