About 7 years ago, I gave up on “new” horror. Aside from a handful of rare exceptions – including Drag Me to Hell, The Cabin in the Woods, The Conjuring, and The Babadook – the last decade of horror has been disappointing to say the least. The films just mentioned were a few that piqued my interest enough to temporarily lift my ban and give them a chance, due to a particular director, some abnormal hype, the recommendation of a friend, or simply winning free passes and thinking, “What the hell, why not?” After all of the embarrassing remakes ruining fond childhood memories, after all the studios relying on naked teenagers to distract from the lack of actual storyline, after all the Top 40 soundtracks instead of original scores, there was just no real reason to bother anymore. It was around the time I decided to avoid wasting any more money going to the theatre only to suffer through 2 hours of garbage that I evidently missed out on something that was actually worth watching: The House of the Devil.
Samantha Jones (Jocelin Donahue) is a broke college student who accepts a babysitting job she sees advertised on a bulletin board as a last resort to make ends meet. Samantha’s best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) drives her to the large rural home of Mr. and Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov), and almost immediately upon arriving both girls begin to suspect that something isn’t quite right. Their suspicions are confirmed when Mr. Ulman informs Samantha that he and his wife do not in fact even have a child – the job is actually to take care of his ill and aged mother-in-law. Despite Megan’s protests and concerns over the Ulmans’ dishonesty, Samantha decides to take the job anyway and remain in the home with the elderly woman for the evening. The pay provided would cover her expenses for several months, and what’s a few hours with an old lady who can’t even get out of bed? Almost sounds too good to be true. Well (Spoiler alert!) it is. In fact, all Hell breaks loose, ha-ha.
Here’s what I enjoyed most about this film: Nothing happens. Seriously. Out of House’s 95 minutes’ running time, about 80 of them were spent waiting for something to happen. It was pure suspense. There is a brief moment as Megan leaves Samantha at the house that made me jump out of my seat and utter one quick expletive, but other than that, nothing. I felt like I was alone in the house with this young girl, not sure what’s going on, just waiting for the night to end, all the while knowing that something isn’t quite right. It was a level of anticipation that is rare in today’s world of instant gratification. It was fun to wait for something instead of getting it all at once. It wasn’t boring for a moment even though there wasn’t a lot of action until the final few minutes. And those few minutes were well worth the wait.
Now I do feel like I’m cheating a little bit with this one when I exclude it from my list of past decade trash. Not only was The House of the Devil set in the 1980s, but it was shot with 16mm film and the style and premise are a straight up and brilliant homage to my favourite era of the horror genre. The opening credits, the score and the satanic undertones of the storyline are all a very obvious throwback to typical 1970s and 80s horror. Throughout the film, there are what I found to be subtle yet blatant shoutouts to several classics, including The Amityville Horror, Carrie, and Rosemary’s Baby. Even the ending itself is a nod to the past, complete with a twist that you could (or should) have seen coming from a mile away.
To me, The House of the Devil is a gesture of respect to its predecessors. And because of that, Ti West has earned my genuine appreciation and admiration as a writer and director. So if you’re anything like me and have decided to not waste your time on any more new millennium horror flicks that will inevitably suck, check this one out and just pretend it’s 1980. You won’t have to try too hard, and you’ll have to try even less to have a good time watching it.
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