The House of The Devil: The 80’s Satanic Panic is Back

It’s Halloween night which means it is time for a good scare. Recently I have been avoiding horror films because…well because I just didn’t feel like powering through a film stressed out sitting in a pool of my own sweat. But hey what better time than October to lose sleep wondering what the shadow under your door a second ago was. This year I decided on a film I had been intentionally avoiding, Ti West’s 2009 hit The House of The Devil. Now I hadn’t actually heard much about the film other than how it was filmed in a retro style to give an authentic early 80’s feel. That and title alone were enough for me to keep my distance until I was mentally prepared for whatever insanity West had engineered. So after a long day, I locked the doors, boarded the windows and cut off all the lights to settle into what I predicted would be a long disturbing night.

The House of The Devil was filmed on a modest budget coming in around $900k and this is noticeable. The cast is quite small mainly consisting of 5 players. The protagonist Samantha is played by Jocelin Donahue, a new face to me, who does a great job considering she is alone on-screen for a good bulk of the film. The Ulmans’, the sinister family living in the house, are played by Tom Noonan, who I remember from the AMC series Hell on Wheels, Mary Woronov as his wife and AJ Bowen who I can only assume is their son. Greta Gerwig plays Megan, Samantha’s friend who has some decent screen time. I have no real complaints about the acting, everyone played their role nothing more nothing less. The films strong point is what it brings visually. West managed to recreate the feel of a 1980’s horror by using old tech and some film techniques. Add the retro style clothing and you’ll convince yourself you’re watching something made 3 decades ago. Throughout the film the tension is thick and builds with the use of clever camera angles and lighting and steady zooming, it will keep you on edge. The film is by no means terrifying but you’ll break a sweat.

The story and writing are all decent but nothing new. Honestly, it would have been enough to keep me satisfied save for some early revelations and the last act of the film which is where The House of the Devil loses me. The film is ripe with anxiety and dread. Creaking floorboards, strange thumps and odd behavior from the Ulman’s all produce suspense. The camera follows Samantha silently around the house as hers and our curiosity builds, dreading to look around every corner or open each door not sure what she will find. But then the movie rips us out of it all by providing us with details that would have been better left hidden. It essentially confirms our worst fears before we have had a chance to stew in them. For the reader’s sake I won’t give the details away but sadly the rest of the movie then becomes a waiting game for that moment that we now know will come. Which then leads to the final act. Considering the build-up and that the film has no real meat to it I expected a terrifying reward. But the ending is instead quite predictable and anticlimactic. As well as short-lived. The film spends a majority of the time stretching time and suspense but decides to just drop the climax on our lap. It is unfortunate because aside from these gripes the films had a lot of potential to be a horror classic.

The House of The Devil gets a lot right. West definitely knows how to build tension and keep the viewer on their toes. He doesn’t rely on the overused jump scares with no meaning that we see too often in the modern horror genre. However, the story didn’t feel fully flushed out. Much like 2015’s The Invitation the tension bursts quite near the end of the film but where this film falls flat is in delivery and reward. Since so much has already been given away earlier in the film there is really no surprise when we eventually find Samantha bound and sprawled out on a pentagram. In this way, the film almost borders on cliché which could be much worse if it weren’t for my assumption that West actually wanted it to be cliché. Additionally once the chaos starts it all just sort of unravels rather quickly. Samantha puts up a good fight but most of the tension is lost and we get Samantha being chased around the house but it’s a short time before the story simply concludes. For some, this will be acceptable but for me, I needed a little more. More chasing, more tension and if possible even more story to help put some pieces together. A film that comes to mind is the Tobe Hooper classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Once the final girl Sally started running it was a long ride and when it was all over we could barely comprehend everything we just saw. It was an experience whereas the ending of House felt more like a wrap-up.

Even with its shortcomings, I would still recommend giving The House of The Devil a watch. This is mainly because I can see what the film is trying to do and for some, it will be just what they were hoping for and be an enjoyable experience. The cast is talented and leading up to the conclusion it’s a nail-biter.  And with West getting that classic feel just right, you will definitely feel like you’ve dusted off that old tube and been ripped back to 1983.

The House Of The Devil Rating: ⭐️⭐️½

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