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.
For 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.
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.
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 crawl 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 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.
All 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 shadows. 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 West 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?!