Friday again, and have I got a movie for you! My dear friend Emma over at emmakwall(explains it all) watched this recently and reviewed it here, which kicked me into gear to write this review. I’ve got a bunch of Friday Night Movie Recommendations lined up but this one got bumped to the top of the list. Lucky you.
I was originally introduced to this movie by the one and only Eric over at The IPC (you can read his wonderful review of this movie here) and I’m so glad that he told me about it. The House of the Devil is a great horror film filled with suspense and real tension made possible by some great performances by the cast and strong direction by Ti West, a horror director that is definitely on my “To Watch” list.
“During the 1980s over 70% of American adults believed in the existence of abusive satanic cults… Another 30% rationalized the lack of evidence due to government coverups… The following is based on true unexplained events…” And that’s how the movie starts. I have to say, I’m a sucker for a good text intro (I could do without the whole “based on a true story” nonsense but you take the good with the bad) and this really helped set the mood. It put a sense of dread over the next character you see, which is our heroine Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) who is desperately trying to get her own place and be independent but is having a serious cash flow problem. To solve this, she responds to a babysitting flyer and gets her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) to drive her out to the house. Once there, she’s told that it isn’t a child that she’ll be watching but the man’s elderly mother-in-law, who needs someone there just in case. Megan knows that something’s not right, and so does Sam, but she’s so desperate for the money that she convinces Megan that she’ll be fine and the night begins.
I’m really loving Ti West lately. I recently reviewed The Sacrament, which he also directed, and I thoroughly enjoyed that one as well. In The House of the Devil, he creates an incredibly tense atmosphere where all of the scares are in the buildup. This movie doesn’t rely on blood and gore or showing you much of anything really during the first two thirds of the film. Instead, it makes you wonder when it’s going to happen and what is going to happen, and that’s the scariest part. My house is a back split and there are three steps from my kitchen into my family room. I was watching so intently as Sam was walking up the stairs to the attic that I fell down these stairs coming back into the room after getting some water. I stubbed my toe, bruised my arm, and it didn’t even matter because I needed to know what happened! The anticipation and the things we imagine will happen are always worse than when we find out what is actually going to happen.
The House of the Devil seemed more reminiscent of Hitchcock to me than the 80s slasher flicks that it pulled some inspiration from. The slow building tension, the knowing that something was going to happen but not know what or when, Hitchcock would have been proud. The 80s vibe was present throughout but it never got to the point where it detracted from the story. The high waisted jeans, the walkman, the lack of cell phones; they all fit perfectly into the world that Ti West created and it wouldn’t have been as effective if it had a contemporary setting.
As great as this movie is, I do have a couple questions,
- Who dances like that in a stranger’s house? I’m all about dancing and the music was great, but I personally would be too uncomfortable to bust a move in a house where I was “babysitting” for the first time. When I was younger, my mom ran a daycare and we also had foster kids so I was around children a lot. As such, I was asked to babysit all the time and the first time at a new house is always really strange and uncomfortable, no matter how well you know the people. Babysitting is definitely a time for watching TV, not for dancing.
- This is an extension of the first question, but who goes through people’s stuff when there’s an able bodied old woman wandering about? I get being nosey and maybe looking through the medicine cabinet or under the sink when you’re in the bathroom, with the door closed, but it takes some serious guts to do that out in the open in a huge house where the old woman could be around the corner at any minute! I was almost more nervous about her getting caught snooping than anything else!
- Who holds a pizza box upright like that? You’re smooshing the pizza! It was a pretty awful looking pizza but she didn’t know that when she grabbed the pizza box from the guy and held it up to her chest, potentially ruining the pizza inside! I love pizza and I hate to see it abused.
Overall, this is an ingenious enter to the horror genre and I’m sorry it took me so long to finally see it. It’s a great film that relies heavily on suspense and will have you holding your breath and peeking through your fingers throughout. Give it a watch and let me know your thoughts.