THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
It was Ti Wests stated intention to make The House of the Devil appear as though it were a forgotten film of the 1980s. West clearly draws on the whole Babysitter On Her Own genre that sprung up from the likes of Halloween (1978) and When a Stranger Calls (1979). He fills the supporting roles with cameos from actors who found their calling during the 80s horror film Dee Wallace, cult queen Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan who was the original Tooth Fairy in Manhunter (1986). Welcomely, The House of the Devil is one film that homages 1980s horror but does not come with all the genre in-references, in-jokes and quotings that have affected almost every film in this vein since Scream (1996).
Though The House of the Devil features teenage girls as characters, it can by no means be counted as one of the modern 00s teen horror films the performances are naturalistic, they come from ordinary characters that happen to be teens, not actors that have been posed for their looks or come with a cynical genre-informed self-awareness. Jocelin Donahue gives a warm, credible and convincing performance in the lead. Elsewhere, the great Mary Woronov is disappointingly underused but Tom Noonan gives a fine, creepy performance where he affects a timidly apologetic manner that manages to seem disconcertingly off-centre.
The House of the Devil is certainly a far slower and more mood-absorbed effort than any other horror film being put out at the moment. Ti Wests visual style is ordinary and bland, almost to the point of being dull at times. West absorbs one in the quietude and builds a slow brooding mood. He certainly draws us in and makes us feel every moment of Jocelin Donahues boredom as she wanders through the house trying to find something to do. One is left waiting in anticipation for all of this to explode into something. The disappointment of the film is that Ti West fails to provide anything to adequately pay off the build-up. There is one jolting scene 37 minutes in where Greta Gerwigs car stalls and then a guy (A.J. Bowen) appears and offers to light her cigarette, before he asks puzzled Are you not the babysitter? and then abruptly shoots her in the head. The film needed more of these jolt out-of-the-blue surprises.
Eventually towards the very end, everything explodes into action but this is actually the least satisfying part of the film. It is no particular surprise about what is going on thanks to the opening title card that talks about the statistics of Satanic abuse cases in the US or with Tom Noonan dropping far-too-obvious hints about the eclipse and Jocelin Donahue being perfect for their needs. What one wishes that The House of the Devil had done here is produced something wild and unexpected out of the hat, had subverted expectations instead of led to the exact places that the build-up expects one to do. The elements of the genre that the film wields after unveiling its surprise here are all stock ones from the Satanism/occult genres. This makes the downbeat twist ending the film goes out on, which only rehashes Rosemarys Baby (1968), a disappointment. It is a film that one keeps wishing would have produced more than it eventually does. Still, The House of the Devil is promising enough that I will be following Ti West with interest to see what he produces next.
The House of the Devil comes from Glass Eye Pix, a low-budget production company that have made a number of other horror films with the likes of The Off Season (2004), Zombie Honeymoon (2004), Ti Wests The Roost (2005), Automatons (2006), Wests Trigger Man (2007), I Can See You (2008), I Sell the Dead (2008), Satan Hates You (2009), Bitter Feast (2010), Stake Land (2010), Hypothermia (2011), Late Phases (2014) and Darling (2015). Glass Eye Pix is the production company of director Larry Fessenden (who also produces The House of the Devil) and has directed a number of other genre films with Habit (1997), Wendigo (2001), The Last Winter (2006) and Beneath (2013).