The House of the Devil (2009)
Reviewed on 2010 May 1
This is a niche horror film I’d heard about: something set in the ’80s, and with more tension than blood and guts, and that is always a huge win for me. The problem was this moved too slowly, mistaking an overly measured pace for tension. It still had some good stuff going for it. Without spoiling anything, I can say pay close attention to the dialogue when things get rolling again.
After a teasingly ominous opening screen talking about the fear of devil-worshipping cults in the 1980s, we meet our protagonist. Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, and she’s a likable lead) is dying to abandon her college roommate from hell and move into her own apartment. She needs some extra cash to make it happen, and as she walks by a bulletin board she sees an ad for a babysitting job. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) rides along to check the place out with her, and almost immediately wants to run the other way. The man of the house, Mr. Ullman (Tom Noonan), is seriously creepy and the house itself is a huge, sprawling thing in the middle of nowhere. Megan argues with Samantha that she should forget about the whole thing, but the cash from one night will pay for the deposit for her apartment. Samantha makes Megan promise to pick her up at 12:30, assuring her she’ll be fine. Hey, it’s only a few hours…
HOTD starts out strong, falters in the middle, then gets roaring along again at the end, which was so creepy it’s a shame it was rushed. I thought Ti West made a classy movie, and was impressed that he could create an atmosphere like this with such a minimum of gore. It also obeys the rule of giving the protagonist a reason to ignore their better judgement. I can’t speak for how she acted once she was in the house, but I understand why she took the gig. Samantha was ready to chew her leg off to get away from that roommate.
Two chocolate morsels. It delivered quite a payload, and while it crawled at a molasses pace it was still a lot better than much of the “horror” out there now.