The House Of The Devil (2009)
It’s praised for its retro feel, but lambasted for its meandering plot. These were the two things I knew about this movie before I saw it. I approached with excitement and caution in equal measure, not quite sure what to expect. I suppose the question to ponder is, is this film style over substance?
The film starts with beautiful college girl Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) who’s down on her luck and trying to find some part time work so she can move away from dorms and her hellion of a roommate. She manages to find a babysitting gig and attends, with her concerned friend Megan (Greta Gerwig), the remote house to scope out the job. Even though things seem suspicious and she will in fact be the charge of Mr Ulman’s (Tom Noonan) elderly mother in law, her greed gets the better of her and she accepts. With Megan and the Ulman’s gone the house is plagued with odd noises; bangs and creaks aplenty, until she finally decides to investigate the source of the noise in the attic. Things quickly turn from bad to worse as she becomes a pawn in the twisted activities of the family that dwell within.
There is no denying that the film is pretty sparse. A great portion of it merely features Samantha wondering around the house; however this does facilitate a slow burning dread that heightens as the film progresses. I’m not one who needs constant action and I was satisfied that the tension and atmosphere make up for the lack of activity. My issue is more with the ending which for me feels like it moves completely from the classic feel it has cultivated to become hammy and illogical (and not in a good way). If you’re going to play something straight like Last House On The Left you can’t switch to Evil Dead in the last act (ok maybe I’m exaggerating but you get my drift).
Samantha copes well as the heroine despite lacking that particular sparkle that makes the final girl so special. It might have gone over better had it not been so retro (it is actually shot on 16mm film) as they don’t make heroines like they did in those days anymore. On that note I really do admire the technique they used to film this movie. The sets and style are almost spot on and I thought for a mad second when I pressed play that the 2009 film was a remake and I had downloaded the original.
Overall this is not the most thrilling viewing experience but it was a successful experiment by director Ti West and a very evocative and tense movie for the most part. Definitely worth a watch if you miss the golden age of horror and want one last romp. To answer my own question, style does play a heavy part in the appeal of this movie but it has just enough substance to work.
Video sourced from Youtube.