Saturday, February 6, 2010

The House of the Devil (2009)

Rating: A+
I am going to try to keep my emotions out of this review. (I LOVED THIS MOVIE!) Even though it is impossible, I'm going to do the best I can to provide the most objective review possible. (TI WEST NAILED IT!) I don't want to ruin it for anyone else by setting their expectations too high. (MY ALREADY HIGH EXPECTATIONS WERE EXCEEDED!) So, without further ado, here is a tame, calculated account of my thoughts on The House of the Devil. (PROBABLY MY NEW FAVORITE MOVIE!)

If you've been following Horror Dose this past week, you've seen that I decided to work my way up to this film by watching Ti West's preceding two feature-length releases in chronological order. I chose to do this because I didn't want to be disappointed by The House of the Devil, as every blog out here has been heralding this movie as a sensation, and I wanted to witness West's progression, good or bad, as a director. While The Roost had some glaring blemishes, Trigger Man took those blemishes (e.g. dead-time), polished them, and made them work. In fact, that was pretty much the pattern with every aspect of the two movies: Trigger Man effectively polished and redelivered all of the film-making elements of The Roost, proving to me that West was headed in the right direction (no pun intended).

The Roost and Trigger Man behind me, it came time to watch the movie I was dreading and anxiously awaiting. Dreading because of my unreasonable expectations; anxiously awaiting because of, well, my unreasonable expectations. West instantly shattered all expectations! I can't describe it, but something about the masterful throw-back 80s set and the "feel" of the movie caused me to relinquish my expectations and enjoy what was given to me, scene-by-scene. The film had that same down-time, or slow-burn, but it wasn't bothersome in the least. The stonewashed jeans, the classic Coca-Cola paper cups in the pizzeria, the enormous "portable" tape player; it all worked to create this atmosphere that I couldn't help by love. And it exhibited a wit that I've seen in Chan-wook Park's work and cannot properly explain, but it occurs, for example, during the payphone scene early in the film.

When the name Jocelin Donahue, the lead, appeared, I knew I had seen the name somewhere recently. Then it occurred to me that she played Maryanne Stewart in The Burrowers, which I had just watched the night before. I don't think she had more than three minutes in the movie, but after witnessing her performance and on-screen charm in The House of the Devil, I eagerly anticipate her next movie. Donahue, in my opinion, lit up the screen and carried the role masterfully. By the time West started hitting us with "it" I really cared for Donahue's character. Thus, all that dead-time equated to a Dickensian character development act that set the stage for the third and final act, which locked me in as a fan for life--a fan not only of Ti West and Jocelin Donahue, but of The House of the Devil.

If you haven't seen this movie, I would suggest watching West's other films first to get a sense of his style. Yes, it is a slow-burn as others are pointing out. West takes his time acquainting you the character(s), setting the mood, and building up the suspense. I refuse to describe what happens at the end, but I will say that I enjoy the abrupt ending common to all three West movies I've seen now. Each movie follows a slow-build-into-a-strong-ending-and-CUT! structure that I love. Who really needs to know what happens next? The House of the Devil is unlike any movie I've seen in a long time. Horror, lately, has delivered either extreme splatter-punk, torture, or extra (t00) sharp cheese. The House of the Devil strikes a chord that hasn't been struck in quite some time. It delivers everything I want in a horror movie.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. While I'm not as head over heels as you are, I did like this movie a lot. There's no point in me complaining that the build-up was too long, because it was obviously designed to mimic a particular structure, and in that sense it works.

    Glad you're still young enough (actually, I think you're 3 years younger than me...) to get excited about a movie like this - the only movies that make me this happy and thrilled nowadays are porn classics that I discover, and then can't talk to anyone about. :(

  2. I couldn't even help it. I thought to myself, people are going to question why I'm so hyped-up over this. But it just really clicked with me in a way that I wanted Paranormal Activity to. As far as the age things goes, I'm 25 and grew up with a brother 9 years my senior, so I was able to savor and appreciate this blast of 80s goodness.

    That's really funny (re: porn classics). I'm fairly certain you are the only pornography scholar I know!

  3. Is this available for instant viewing yet? You've inspired me to watch this one!

  4. HF - No, it isn't. But you can pop it in the queue or buy it for a mere $17 (or less) at Target!

  5. I'm glad you liked this one as much as I did. I think, for a certain type of fan, it's simply THE movie. It hits all the right notes, and my review was of a similar tone - I love it so much, it's hard to be objective. It feels made for my sensibility, and remains one of the best horror movies I have ever seen.

  6. Bo - Exactly. For me, everything it fired hit the bulls-eye. I can finally read your review of it now that I've seen it. I remember fast-forwarding your and Maven's Podcast when THOTD was brought up! Leave it to me to be the last to see everything, as in Paranormal Activity; and there's no telling when I'll finally see Green's new release, Frozen!

  7. I loved this movie. Saw it twice in the theaters and once on demand.

    My favorite scene occurs when Sam wakes up from her drugging and the way thee camera "blinks" back & forth, revealing a bit more of her predicament at a time.

  8. Mike - That "got" me, too, in the best way! Ti West took the film and just cranked it up beginning with Sam fainting! Masterful. Great, great movie.

  9. I liked it, but didn't love it. West's direction is outstanding and I appreciated the slow burn, but I thought the climax/end was disappointing. For whatever reason, the escape from the ropes felt half-assed. Everything fell flat for me, especially after a fantastic build. Oh well. I'm still a big fan of West. :D

  10. For me, the pace fit very well with the 80's set and did a great job of giving me that authentic 80's horror film which I grew up enjoying. I constantly questioned whether this film was made in 2009 or 1989, so bravo to West on his execution in that regard. The most memorable scene for me was when Donahue's character's roomate pulled over and needed a light. I'll leave it at that. The overall feeling placed this somewhere between Amityville Horror and Rosemary's Baby for me, only flatter. I had high hopes that the buildup would climax into something monstrously sacrilegious but I was fairly disappointed. At least in Rosemary's Baby we had a few extremely animated and interesting characters (namely the Castevets) to entertain us through the burn. I will give kudos to Donahue for a great performance, and as Chris states above I will look for her in future films. All in all House of the Devil does a superb job of creating the tension of a classic 80's horror flick but with a weak punchline in my opinion. I have to agree with B-Movie Becky on this one.

  11. B-Movie Becky & Human Filth - Well said, and I'll acknowledge the validity of both points. I think I was so smitten by the film already that, by the time the ending unleashed, I was blind to its flaws (love is blind, after all!).

    I really expected more of an extreme spectrum of reception for this one, but so far it seems people either loved it or liked it. Like you've both pointed out, it's easy to see that the film is the product of one talented filmmaker.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!