Despite putting this and The Innkeepers off for over a year even though both are on Netflix Instant Viewing, I decided to finally watch The House of the Devil and find out why so many people enjoy Ti West’s work. He is a fairly new filmmaker, having only made a handful of movies-the earliest according to Criticker being released in 2005-and he’s already gathered some acclaim from horror fans and even critics. The House of the Devil is a well made and atmospheric throwback to 1970s and 1980s horror movies, and the film’s low-budget resulted in it being even self-style just like the same low-budget 70s and 80s horror movies its inspired by. However it’s a fairly original work, and the film is very slow burning, with West giving the audience time to soak in the high level of creepy that underlies most of the film’s scenes.
I love the opening credits, with the young heroine Samantha walking along her college campus, rock music blaring in the background, headphones perched on her ears, long brunette hair hanging over her jacket as she strolls along, unaware that she is about to enter a strange new world. The job is fairly simple: babysitting. Problem is, Sam is not babysitting a couple of kids in the suburbs; no she has been hired by an elderly couple to watch over the wife’s mother. In a creepy old house in the middle of the countryside. Oh and the elderly couple hiring her is played by legends Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov. No big deal, right? Well as us horror fans know, anytime you babysit is just an excuse for bad things to happen to you.
Still West hangs back, utilizing only one really freaky jump scare, letting the audience become further alarmed at what is transpiring, letting the viewer’s get more and more into the movie. I prefer this approach even though at times I felt a tad bored, as the payoff ends up being rather enormous, the climax utterly terrifying. There’s something about a movie that creeps you out the entire time while still holding one last card in the deck, guaranteed to leave you feeling really uneasy after you exit the theater. The Blair Witch Project comes to mind in that regard as well, another movie heavy on atmosphere with a fantastic payoff.
Jocelin Donahue as Sam is fantastic here, displaying a like able presence, being the film’s main anchor and giving it credibility as things begin to turn weird. Also its really cool that West had famous horror scream queen Dee Wallace make a cameo appearance as “The Landlady,” although I wish she had been in the film more. Oh and I love how sparse and yet engaging the film’s set design was, in addition to the use of color. Especially white, which could mean something but I would have to view the film again to decide said meaning. Some things leave you with more questions than answers.