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The House of the Devil (2009)

July 14, 2013

house-of-the-devil-posterAt first, Ti West’s The House of The Devil shocked me— floored me even. I found myself in a constant state awe at West’s uncanny ability to capture the look and feel of early 1980s horror films, while still being able to create an essence of fresh uniqueness. I was in love. I forced myself to fight the impending sleepiness that washed over my body at 12:30am just so I could finish The House of the Devil in the perfect ambiance I had established for myself; alone in a pitch black house with goosebumps tingling over my body as I grew more and more anxious at the fate of the film’s main character, Samantha (Jocelin Donahue). I gasped during shocking moments and plot twists, and I jumped when the shrill ring of a phone or doorbell permeated the air at almost deafening tones.

Nevertheless, with only a mere 20 minutes left of The House of the Devil, writer, director, and editor Ti West’s chilling tale quickly turns into a campy, convoluted, clichéd horror film that ruined any chance of legacy the film could have had. The tail end of The House of the Devil was so trite, that I cursed loudly multiple time into the empty darkness of my apartment in annoyance. Once again, a horror film with potential is ruined by the film maker’s inability to wrap up a story with a strong, satisfactory ending. Damn it!

All is not lost for The House of the Devil, however. In fact, I highly respect West’s admirable talents at recreating the look and feel of the 1980s horror genre, and making a film that is, for the most part, pretty creepy. The House of the Devil follows Samantha, a college sophomore stuck in a rut of being jobless, broke, and sharing a room with her less than likable, slutty roommate. Desperate for cash and a new place to live, Samantha answers an ad for a babysitter on the night a much anticipated lunar eclipse. Despite her initial apprehension due to her new employer’s timid, but off-putting demeanor, and warnings from her best friend Megen (Greta Gerwig), Samantha goes through with the job as the lure of extra cash is undeniable. Her night of babysitting quickly takes a turn for the worse as strange goings on within the house cause her to stumble onto a gruesome discovery about the homeowners.

West’s film opens to a prologue on the Satanic scare of the 1980s, in which towns across the country found themselves revisiting fears of The Salem Witch Trails, as residents began to accuse and suspect others of being involved in Satanic cults. The House of the Devil plays on that fear which comes alive through West’s ingenious filming techniques. Long shots of Samantha captures her isolated solitude which gets contrasted against moments of slow zooms into extreme tight close ups, creating a theme of an eerie sense of distrust. West’s knack for capturing the aesthetic of the time period in which the film is set is commendable. Through props, perfectly feathered and flipped hair, tight high-waist jeans, and a grainy aesthetic that’s credited to shooting on 16mm film, West paints a horrifically lovely homage to horror films of the past. While Jeff Grace’s astonishing soundtrack calls to mind 80’s classics through high-pitched synthesizers and the timbre of drums and guitar sounds of the time.

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Yet, the film’s ending is so muddled in nonsensical cheesiness that  it takes away from the overall experience. The House of the Devil’s plot revelation is nothing more than a cheaply put together rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby, bastardizing not only Roman Polanski’s most iconic scene, but also his style as well as that of The Exorcist. There’s little logical explanation from the character’s about their motivation or plans. Moreover, a menacing character who gets introduced a third of the way into the film is given no explanation as to who he is or why he is participating in the events set up at the film’s end.

The House of the Devil isn’t a beacon among horror films the way I expected it to be due to it’s strong beginning. However, although it’s ending ruin’s it’s potential for overall greatness, West still makes a film that’s rooted in simplistic, entertaining horror. Fans of the genre will appreciate his throwback style and unique story, even if you are turned off by the amateur student film like ending and shoddy editing that reveals the still in tact eye of a character who gets it gouged out. The House of the Devil should at least be seen to catch a glimpse of the promising talent this millennium has to offer.

SEE IT. Mostly if you are a hardcore horror fan, just to appreciate the strong first half.

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