Saturday, February 6

Some quick thoughts on House of the Devil (2009)

I hate to say this, but House of the Devil is ultimately yawn-inducing. I get the gimmick of being thoroughly drenched in an early '80s look and feel. Director Ti West never betrays this aesthetic and it's not like the film isn't well-crafted. West shows great ability in both restraint and execution in his methodical delivery of this satanic slow burner. Everyone in front of the camera, especially the Jessica Harper-like Jocelin Donahue, get West's approach and provide characterizations seemingly sliced directly from the era.

The problem is that West is so slavish to keeping things so muted for so long that the sense of build-up is more akin to sucking one big drop. There's certainly little red herrings peppered throughout, but with HotD's luxuriously languid pace, it's not hard to see most of the subtle surprises coming from a mile away when given such lengthy periods of quiet to ponder everything. The inevitable "shit just got real" moment is both refreshing yet too heady. It's as if West flicks a switch and we get immediate full-on Rosemary's Baby/Beyond the Door maternal terror. There's a clear fracture between these two portions and this beguiles the long simmering build-up. While I can respect the obvious skill by all involved (Tom Noonan is such a genuinely underrated actor), House of the Devil is frustratingly par the course, too beholden to its influences to feel like anything but another aged, little horror number you'd only visit once in a great while being in the shadow of giants.

Speaking of influence, West mentions Polanski in the making-of, and it's hard to imagine House of the Devil existing without the aforementioned Rosemary's Baby or other greats like Repulsion or The Tenant. In fact, despite West film's being a mock product of the '80s, it owes more to sleepers of the mid-'70s like The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane or Let's Scare Jessica to Death. The thing is these films did it first, do it better, and don't go for a spastic, blood-soaked freakout as their pay-offs. House of the Devil proves this type of horror can still be fashioned, and that's to be praised for what it's worth, but the real trick is proving that while blazing new ground. In the shadow of giants indeed. Still love that VHS though.


Pax Romano said...

I see your point, and yet everything you mentioned made the film work for me.

Different strokes.

Anonymous said...

I echo Pax's sentiment. But different strokes for different folks. I loved the slow burn aspect to the film.

James said...

I was really into the movie in the early going, enjoyed the build, but I agree wholeheartedly with the disappointment in the shift. It felt like it went from a nice simmer to immediately everything boiling over the sides of the pot and onto the stovetop and between the burners. The staging in the basement at the end also felt a bit like b-roll from Curse of the Crimson Altar, too lurid and theatrical, and even more so since everything else in the film was so muted.

Still enjoyed the movie overall, and would be interested in other directors attempting something similar to this. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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