Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Every Single One of Us, the Devil Inside


I know I'm a little late to the game with the much hyped and mostly well received 2009 Ti West film, The House of the Devil, but I did finally get around to watching it after taking a risk and purchasing the VHS/DVD combo pack well over a month ago. I couldn't have been in a more perfect mood as I put the film in and I'm not exactly sure how that perfect mood played into my enjoyment of the movie, but I am sure that my mood was sustained throughout.

house1For the most part, The House of the Devil is basic in premise, focusing on Samantha (played by the very easy on the eyes, Jocelin Donahue), a college sophomore that rents an apartment to get away from the less than stellar lifestyle of dorm living. Samantha has one issue, she has no money and needs to come up with the first month's rent by Monday. Desperate, she takes a high paying one night only babysitting job, however, there is a very good reason it's a one time gig, but that reason is not a very good one for Samantha.


The House of the Devil is often called a throw back to late 70's, early 80's horror, but I see it as less a throwback and more of a style of filmmaking used by West to tell his story. I think it's less an homage and more of an influence that the films of that era have on West as a writer/director, as he is making a type of film that he himself loves and would enjoy seeing on screen. That era of cinema is what would be his influences as an artist and that is where he pulls from. In addition, The House of the Devil is set in the 80's - which is something that serves the story in a way that a modern set film would make very difficult - so the choice in aesthetic is more than fitting.

house5 A big part of why House succeeds as it does is it never feels false, or like an imposter or cheap imitation of movies that came out during that time period. As others have said of the film, I could have been told this movie was made in '81 and outside of some of the familiar faces, I would have believed it. The House of the Devil looks like a 70's/80's film, but more so, it encapsulates the films of that time even outside of it's facade. It captures the essence of a time in cinema that has passed us, a time in cinema that is sorely missed and all but gone due to a general audience that lacks attention spans and patience.

house6 Going into the movie, I was well aware of it being an extremely slow burn. Even though I do enjoy me a slowly paced film, I generally like to know if a movie is going to crawlhouse7 beforehand, just so I can be prepared for it, as I too suffer from a short attention span. I'm not sure if this knowledge helped my viewing or not, but I do know that the slow pace of house8 this film is it's strongest attribute. West is incredibly restrained with the pacing of the film as well as the scares and it isn't until the last ten minutes that the payoff, well, pays off for the viewer. Nevertheless, it is less about the payoff, which indeed, does payoff, and more about the build up from frame one, to the explosive finale.

I'm not one to frighten easily, or get creeped out by a movie, and maybe it was my "perfect mood," but The House of the Devil had me literally on the edge of my computer chair. There are a few perfectly executed jumps scares in the film and to be honest, I jumped right out of my skin at those off guard moments. Now, the jump scares are few and far between, but they hit so hard that I kept expecting another one to happen and that is where The House of the Devil works best. I sat and watched as I waited for the next scare, but that wait would prove to be long as West kept me on my toes, eagerly waiting for something to happen and the second something would happen in any other movie, he would move on to the next scene, only for the tension building process to begin again.


I was seriously a bit of a wreck by the end of this film…my nerves were fried as from the film's first moment, it just builds and builds this severe tension that almost never breaks. It's like having a rubber band be stretched right in front of your eye, but it's tensity almost seems infinite and still, the fear of it's imminent snap holds strong no matter how long the stretch. It's wreaks more havoc on ones nerves than a first kiss in seventh grade. Even when the movie hits that final stretch and makes a complete 180 turn, I was worn out from the tension previously built and was suddenly being assaulted with pure anarchy. I almost couldn't even focus on what was happening, and it took me a few moments to get my bearings back. Shit gave me heartburn.

house12All of the tension in the film is carried out so well on a technical level, with fantastic camera work, filled with great angles and shots, mixed with nice use of house10shadows. The sound and editing really stood out and I even jumped at the screeching of a chair at one point, then after wiping my ass, I felt slightly embarrassed. I was quite impressed with the skill houseWest showed in The House of the Devil, and even more impressed with his approach to the movie's tempo as he was able to mix both in a masterful way.

Not everyone is down for a movie that takes it's time, but while The House of the Devil goes at it in a slow way, it is done in such a fashion that it actually makes it more effective. Well, for me at least. There could have been more shocks tossed in, but they would have been cheap and only served as instant gratification, taking away from the incredible build up that this film has. Even with hopes that were high, I was totally taken off guard by how well crafted The House of the Devil was and I think West has made what will be considered a near classic by my standards.

PMS: Oh hi! I just added this wonderful review of House of the Devil to Final Girl's Film Club thingy that happens in a future world after this review was written. Crazy, right? Anyways, you can go to Final Girl's page *right here!* to see who else reviewed this film in the future, including Stacie's own thoughts, which are even further in the future! What's with the life preserver?!


  1. I've one question for you, "Are you not the babysitter?"

  2. PS, great review, and I am glad you loved this film as much as I did.

  3. Pax, that was the part that had me jumping right out of my chair! You knew the dude was shady, but he didn't give much of a chance to question if he was or wasn't!

    And thanks, I wish I could have gotten to it sooner so as not to be saying shit that has probably already been said about it. Still, it was fantastic and I had to share my thoughts.

  4. Great stuff. Love this movie, and you nailed how the pace adds tension by the bucketload. Has quickly become my favorite recent horror.

  5. Thanks a lot, Mike! I watched it a second time after writing this review and obviously the tension wasn't as intense, but it still held up greatly on that second viewing. Such a well crafted film and also one of my favorite of the past few years.

  6. Love seeing this film get good reviews,i've watched it 3 times already and it gets better and better.West nailed what he was going for,unbelievable suspense and tension in a super creepy place.

  7. I'm so glad you liked it! And I'm happy to see that handsome pic of the "shady" guy in your post. WOO WOO WOO!!
    This makes me want to watch it again! NOW!

  8. Erik: I didn't even really get into the great setting of that awesome house, which I found to be nicely used. I look forward to watching it around Halloween time every year or so and I have a feeling it will hold strong for me.

    Stine: Ha ha, AJ Bowen was in The Signal and was really good, and pretty scary at times. I'm surprised you aren't into Tom Noonan with your leathery grandpa fetish!! ;P

  9. Great review Matt. I am glad you loved this as much as I did! Bet you're glad you took the risk when you picked up the VHS/DVD combo pack. ;o)

  10. Superlative review.

    Because I'm such a stickler for story, I think it was the resolution that disappointed me. Things seemed to go about unfinished and after all that build up, I wanted more.

    The slow pacing was great because it reminded me of The Shining with it the atmospheric element of a space (the house) that the audience knows is more than a bit unsettling and this beautiful young woman carefreely dancing around to The Fixx. You're expecting some jumpy moment every now and then but not quite the explosions that fall like dominoes today in horror films.

    And kudos for pointing out that Ti West was paying homage to the era through artistic influence. It seemed to come naturally to his sensibilites and its believability was highly effective from an audience's point of view.

  11. I absolutely loved this film, and I think that the slow pacing was perfect for this movie, setting a very unsettling and creepy mood that really kept me on the edge of my seat for the whole film. One of my favorite parts, (that Ashlee also mentioned), was when Samantha was dancing around the house, as you know that something bad is about to happen, and you're just waiting for the dreaded moment that could come at any second.

  12. James: Thanks and I sure am happy that I bought that combo pack now! That VHS looks wonderful on my bookcase!

    Ashlee: Thanks! I'm glad you got what I was trying to say about West and the influence that retro cinema has on him.

    So many directors recently have tried to make films that are throwbacks to that era of film, but West would seem to be making those films without trying to.

    Rob Zombie is a good example of a director that makes older feeling and exploitative movies, and whether or not he does all of them well, it is his style that is consistent.

    Emily: I, along with you and Ashlee really enjoyed that scene quite a bit too. It had a charm to it with Samantha dancing around so care free and it was a fun little scene.

    However, as cute and fun as it was, it was one of the scenes that had me most on edge as I just knew something was going to happen to her at any moment!

  13. I'm glad you had a good time with HotD, Matt but I thought it was the most overrated bag of nothing to come along in awhile. Even though we spend almost the entire running time with the main character, we learn absolutely nothing about her save for the fact that she's hard up for cash. She might also be retarded because after finding out she's been misled by Tom Noonan's character and that she's supposed to be sharing the house with a decrepit old lady rather than watching a child, the reasonable response would've been to pass on the job offer.

    And really, what's with the cat and mouse game to begin with? For what Noonan needs this girl for, it'd be a whole lot easier to have just kidnapped someone rather than go through an elaborate charade. Then there's the half-assed non-ending to consider.

    To me, HotD came off as West trying to copy an era that - due to his youth - he only experienced second-hand. The result is a film that feels like a pain-staking forgery rather than the real deal.

  14. Im with you here Matt, I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and I actually prefer knowing less about a character as opposed to having character backgrounds forced down my throat in unnatural character exchanges.

    I really, really hated the ending though. Completely spoiled all of the build, and would have benefited from a less is more approach

  15. Angie: Definitely and please share your thoughts when you do!

    Jeff: I don't need to learn too much about the Samantha character, only because it would serve no purpose outside of useless information and bog the movie down. I think you know all you need to know about her to know why she puts herself in this position and even though it's crazy to take a job after being lied to, it'd be almost as crazy to turn down $400 for a few hours.

    For example, upstanding and decent people have smuggled drugs across the boarder on airplanes to make a quick and hefty buck when in a pinch. The payoff outweighs the risk in an irrational and money hungry mind. Plus, she does acknowledge that it's crazy to take the job, but she can't turn down all that money.

    As for simply kidnapping her, or someone, that is true, but that would make for the possibility of drawing unwanted attention. If they try and snag some chick, and she somehow gets away, only to tell the police of their little operation, they would be toast. Maybe that's why they are at that house to begin with....maybe they tried to kidnap someone previously and had to take off with the quickness to keep from being caught. They weren't in that house for long, as the photo would suggest.

    I wish you would have enjoyed the film as I did, but it is what it is and not everyone is going to love it.

    Carl: I really enjoyed the ending, but I can see that as being the biggest problem with the movie for some. It's tonal change from the rest of the movie is nothing short of drastic, but I like how it all works out.

  16. Great writeup. I love that you got this on VHS as well.

  17. You have no idea how tempting it is to just open it and watch it on my VCR...but the collector in me keeps that temptation art bay, thankfully. Thanks for the comment!


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