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.