Ti West’s 2009 supernatural movie, The House of the Devil ,is a beautifully crafted love letter to 70’s and 80’s horror films. It follows the tale of a Samantha (played by Jocelin Donahue), a college girl who ends up taking a babysitting job for an elderly couple. Here’s the catch- there’s no baby. Instead, upon arriving at the location, she learns she’s to look after the elderly mother of the wife. From there, we descend into a slow burn of paranoia and tension as we watch our unsuspecting “babysitter” reckon with the terrors of the night.
I’m going to be honest. I haven’t felt this way since I was a kid, watching stuff like The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, two excellent films that have me genuinely scared even now. What West is able to do with his precise use of lighting, sound, and camera technique wonderfully recreates the moods and feelings the above and similar pieces have. We constantly get gorgeous outside wide shots, or corner shots that make us feel on edge and in turn amplifies the tension. There were multiple times where the camera angle frames Samantha as prey, that’s being watched. The sound comes in and out of the background to the foreground creating a a sense of intensity and helps foreshadow future events based on how the music switches. The lighting is also stellar. It feels like an older movie, and the darker scenes are great at building anticipation up.
Jocelin, as Samantha, carried so much of the movie. The way she responded to a lot of the situations felt understandable and helped progress the movie to its eventual climax. She manages to portray a real sense of urgency which also helps justify some of the more questionable decisions. It helps the movie from feeling too absurd or campy.
However, I do think that the first two acts are a real slow burn. Personally, I love a good slow burn. If the payoff or the meaning of the movie are made more impactful, then I don’t mind or in some cases genuinely appreciate the same. I know that might put others off. But in the case of this movie, the third act payoff is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I literally could not believe how great and climactic it feels. The cinematography becomes a lot more alive and dynamic here which really amplifies the feeling. I was waiting for so long for a payoff, and boy was it worth it.
The only real problems I had with the movie were some of the dumb character decisions and cliches. I think the movie wants us to kind of gloss over them and just accept them for what they are and enjoy the ride. For the most part I was able to, but at some points it really became a “what is happening?” moment. Some of the cliches also become more tongue in cheek because the movie almost points them out and “gets in” on the joke. This definitely helped me just ease off of nitpicking and just enjoying the ride.
TLDR: The House of the Devil is a phenomenal movie that demonstrates some of the best craftsmanship I’ve seen in terms of set design and presentation. It might feel campy or cliched to you in some places, but if you can get past those moments and stay patient, you’re in for a great ride.
Final Rating: 9.2/10. If you like The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby ,or movies like those I’d give this a solid go. Fans of slow burn suspense movies that love big climactic endings should also give it a try.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!