Director: Ti West
Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, Dee Wallace
Screenplay: Ti West
95 mins. Rated R for some bloody violence.
I love that independent horror has made a comeback. There are so many talents in the film-making community that it would be a shame to miss out on some of the terrific titles being produced. One of those talents that has been gaining more and more steam in recent years is Ti West (V/H/S, The Sacrament). Two years ago, I reviewed The Sacrament and the anthology The ABCs of Death, which featured West’s short M is for Miscarriage, and while I really enjoyed the former, West’s work has been hit or miss with me. Tonight, we will take a look at the project that brought him into the public view, The House of the Devil.
It’s 1983 and Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, Insidious: Chapter 2, Holidays) needs money badly to pay for her new apartment. She takes a babysitting gig offering a lot of money for a strange older couple, much to the frustration of Samantha’s best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha, Arthur). When the husband, Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan, Heat, Anomalisa) admits he hasn’t been completely honest, Samantha starts to wonder if this is all worth the money, but she takes the job anyway. The house is old and creepy and its clear that something isn’t right within its walls. Something very sinister is happening to Samantha, and she soon discovers that this job is not what it seems.
It’s hard to talk about The House of the Devil without revealing spoilers, but I’ll try my best. The main plotline isn’t extremely inventive, but West’s close attention to detail and gorgeous style are really what’s at play in this film. From his use of 16mm film stock to his stylish opening credits and musical choices, it isn’t hard to see that this film is an homage to the classic independent horror of the 1980s, and the production of the film can’t be beat in that regard. He also retains young talent with Donahue and Gerwig as well as veteran talent from Noonan, Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000, The Devil’s Rejects) and Dee Wallace (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Lords of Salem) in his casting choices.
The problem comes with West’s writing, and I’ve said this before. He doesn’t get the ball rolling quick enough. There’s a good 45 minutes or so (half the film’s runtime) spent on setting up the story, and by the time it gets going, there isn’t enough time to develop real scares until the last 20 minutes or so. When it gets to the finale, it works to build an intense conclusion, but it lost me several times in the buildup. Slow-burn is fine, but this burn is barely steam.
The House of the Devil is a fine enough film, but it definitely doesn’t showcase all of West’s talents, though his visual sense cannot be denied. Donahue leads the film with a subtly accessible performance as Samantha, and she is matched by her terrific castmates. I just wish this film had a better sense of direction.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of the anthology film The ABCs of Death, click here.
For my review of Ti West’s The Sacrament, click here.