The House Of The Devil

The House Of The Devil


Reviewed by: Adam Woodward

Taking place in small-town Connecticut on the eve of a lunar eclipse, we are introduced to Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue), a hapless girl-next-door type whose carefree disposition has been shot by financial woes. In dire need of cash for a down payment on an apartment, Samantha answers a ‘babysitter-wanted’ ad on her campus noticeboard. With best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) in tow, Samantha turns up buoyed by the prospect of easing her mounting debts. But entering the isolated mansion delivers the first warning sign as the unsavoury fineprint of the job is revealed.

The sit is not for a child but for the owner’s decrepit mother-in-law, who is said to be confined to her room at the top of the house. Wariness floods Samantha’s mind, but an increasingly agitated Mr Ulman (Tom Noonan) presses her to stay and promises an obscene increase in pay if she does. Samantha obliges and the film’s transition to full-blooded haunted house horror is complete.

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With a composed, naturalistic opening sequence punctuated by bold yellow title credits and Jeff Grace’s jarring score, The House Of The Devil distinguishes itself from the outset as a postmodern horror that wears its influences on its bloodied sleeve. In echoing the visceral style of 1980s horror flicks, director Ti West establishes a disquieting acquaintance with his audience. This is highbrow horror, perhaps, but the sincerity in West’s work bears no signs of pretension.

Still just 29, West is fast establishing himself as an expert of his craft. After cutting his teeth on the spine-tingling breakthrough features The Roost and Trigger Man, West’s career was roadblocked by the straight-to-DVD debacle that was Cabin Fever 2. Not so much a comeback as a return to form, The House Of The Devil is West’s most assured work. Shot using 16mm film, the film has an unmistakable retro tone, accentuated by West’s meticulous attention to costume and set design detail.

As Samantha restlessly passes the time, curiously checking rooms and flicking indifferently through television channels, the audience’s awareness of what’s to come becomes asphyxiating. West tightens his grip in the film’s final third, turning a hitherto steady narrative into an abrasive audience assault. The house begins to groan and creak into life before a blackout besieges our hapless heroine. Plunged into chaos, we can only sit back and watch behind shielding hands as Samantha becomes a pawn in her own living nightmare.

For all its sharply deployed pastiche and countless nods and winks, The House Of The Devil is a purist’s horror film. As such, those accustomed with the torture porn aesthetics and frenzied pacing of contemporary horror cinema may see their attention dwindle, but horrorhounds will revel in this atmospheric, slow-burning throwback. But West isn’t done yet. When the dust settles, a subtly executed twist comes like a hammer blow, backstabbing the audience after granting some sense of resolution in the film’s penultimate act.

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2010
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The House Of The Devil packshot
Retro suspense thriller centers on a cash-strapped college girl who answers a babysitting ad only to gradually unravel the horrifying secret behind why she was truly hired.
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Read more The House Of The Devil reviews:

Anton Bitel ****

Director: Ti West

Writer: Ti West

Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, A.J. Bowen, Dee Wallace

Year: 2009

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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