Friday, May 25, 2018

The House of the Devil (2009)

If you've heard one thing about Ti West's The House of the Devil, it's more than likely how successfully it mimics the slasher films of the 70s/80s, despite being from the early 2000's. The level of detail and care is indeed astounding, with really only some familiar genre actors giving the game away.

There are clear acts in this movie; the first introducing us to Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), a sophomore at university who's looking to move out of her shared dorm into a cool new apartment. Donahue plays Sam perfectly and charmingly unremarkable - an opening scene shows she's "landlady approved": testament to how vanilla she is - and both her sexually active, punk roommate and street-wise best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) appear to be more interesting characters. Sam has uncomplicated wants at this point in her life: she just needs enough money to write the aforementioned new landlady (Dee Wallace!) a cheque.

It could be awful. It could be from hell.
− Megan.

The second act establishes that Sam is so desperate for money that she's willing to make some questionable decisions when it comes to a babysitting gig she answered an ad about. She accepts the job for that night - a night of a lunar eclipse, no less - with little-to-no information, and when she meets the family, she ignores her instincts (and those of Megan) about how increasingly odd this all is. We watch her make herself at home in what is a quintessential house for this type of movie (think the sorority house in Black Christmas but scaled down a bit; lots of stairs and passageways). She orders pizza, dances around to her Walkman, and does a little light snooping. Normal babysitter stuff.

Come the third act, Sam has shed the shackles of her earlier worry, and descended through woozy fear into full blown survivalist hysteria. Behind the doors she neglected to open during her nosing, this house holds its darkest secrets, and once she wakes up to them it's the beginning of the end.

Shot on 16mm film and using the same techniques from that time too, this is both a loving tribute and an enjoyable movie in its own right. Claiming to be based on true events from the "Satanic Panic" era in the US, its 95min runtime makes use of every second to establish Sam's plain existence and then tear it apart.

This awareness of itself in the best possible way, along with a gently creepy turn from Tom Noonan, and beautifully sewn seeds of dread as the film progresses, plus some wonderful, Exorcist-like subliminal work in the final act, make The House of the Devil an absolute treat.

It's streaming on Shudder at time of writing. 

Once you've seen it, check out some of the alternative/fan-made poster art that can be found online. There are some truly gorgeous ones out there and people really had fun with the retro vibe.

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