The House of the Devil
Dir. Ti West (2009)
A young woman, desperate for money for a new apartment, takes a babysitting job at a mysterious house during a lunar eclipse.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Ti West has become a superstar in the horror genre, but his path to the top started with 2009's The House of the Devil, a throwback to the 80's supernatural, moody horror that most of us grew up loving. The man who would eventually go on to helm The Innkeepers, X, and Pearl started with a period piece that focuses on the story of a college student named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) who has just gotten a new apartment and is seeking to get enough money for the first month's rent. She takes a job advertised on a bulletin board, a babysitting gig that she naturally assumes is for a child but ends up being for an old woman. Despite being freaked out by the circumstances of the job, she takes it because she's hard up, but unfortunately winds up in a creepy old mansion at the worst time imaginable. Bad things happen during eclipses, as Samantha will find out for herself by the end of the film.
West shows the chops that will eventually make him one of the most popular directors working in horror by crafting a film that feels completely 80's with the ratcheting tension of much earlier works from masters like Hitchcock and Polanski. Donahue is the perfect conduit for West's slow-burn thriller, hearkening back to Jessica Harper in Suspiria. It is almost impossibly difficult to make a good slow burn horror, and it takes an incredible payoff at the end to make the drag of the opening worthwhile: if your ending doesn't bring it home, the rest of the film is just an angering pit of nothingness. The House of the Devil, however... man, does it pay off.
Full disclosure: I fucking love this movie, and I say that as someone who usually rolls his eyes at a movie that can be adequately described as a slow burn. But THotD is not a slow burn so much as it is a simmering cauldron of fear, relentlessly teasing scares that seem just around the corner without delivering upon them, keeping the audience guessing from the edge of their seats. It ignores so many rules from previous films: there's nothing hiding around the corner, and it doesn't feel like it's a movie that takes place in the 80's so much as it feels like a movie that was made in the 80's. West's use of 16mm film makes the movie feel like a spiritual successor to grindhouse, and the film's blood-soaked finale leaves no doubt.
The House of the Devil shows a magnificent eye for detail and a hardcore dedication to what makes horror work. By the time that the events of the film go completely off the rails, we know that he's not afraid to pull the trigger on scenes of extreme violence and yet are still shocked by the breakneck pacing of the final act. It leaves its audience wanting more and peeking between their fingers at wherever West is going to take them next. It's an indie throwback with guts, and its a huge risk for a new filmmaker relying on his vision and talent in creating a film that will appeal to a more discerning modern audience.
I feel like a fanboy when I talk about Ti West because I'm such a huge admirer of basically his entire filmography. There are so many people who try to make throwback horror movies and reveal either their lack of horror knowledge or their inability to make it work. West assembles an unbelievable homage to the films that have made the genre famous while also paving his own way into the genre with a movie that is not easily forgotten. The House of the Devil has earned its place in the horror zeitgeist as a modern cult classic with one of the most batshit finales in recent memory. There's not a whole lot more that you can ask for, and by the time the closing credits scroll across the screen, the audience is left wondering what he's going to come up with next.
Who this movie is for: Slow burn horror devotees, Retro horror freaks, Eldercare workers
Bottom line: The House of the Devil blew me away when I first saw it and I have thoroughly enjoyed every rewatch. Director Ti West is amazing, a modern master with the potential to place his name among the greats. Star Jocelin Donahue is a modern update on Jessica Harper, the creepy titular house hides more than enough secrets, and the breakneck finale is outstanding. THotD is a modern slow burn classic that deserves to be seen by fans of the horror of yesteryear.