Directed by Ti West [Other horror films: The Roost (2005), Trigger Man (2007), Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009), The Innkeepers (2011), V/H/S (2012, segment ‘Second Honeymoon’), The ABCs of Death (2012, segment ‘M is for Miscarriage’), The Sacrament (2013)]
I’ve not seen many Ti West films. Aside from this, Cabin Fever 2 and The Roost have been it (I recall enjoying The Roost, but boy, I didn’t care for Cabin Fever 2 at all). That said, I was still interested in finally seeing this one, especially because it’s generally gotten favorable reaction from most people I know.
All-in-all, though, I have to say that it feels more like a mixed bag than anything else.
The presentation is off the hook, though. Styled after classic movies of the 1970’s, this has an overall great retro, throwback feel that really has to be seen to be believed. It’s just great, and what helps is the sense of unease and tension that permeates throughout most of the film. You get some great style, you get some great tension, and you get a few good performances (Jocelin Donahue being the best), so what’s my hesitation with lauding over this one?
Perhaps the biggest issue here is the nature of the story. Based on what little I knew about this going it, I was sort of thinking it’d be along the lines of 2008’s Babysitter Wanted, though it reminded me far more of 1973’s Warlock Moon. My preconceptions aside, The House of the Devil is very much a slow-burn, and it’s not until the final 15 minutes that things really pick up. That’s fine in some ways, as you don’t want to spoil where exactly the story is going before you get to the climax, but for an hour and ten minutes, we have a lot of creepy and unsettling vibes, a few scenes of surprising violence, and that’s it.
Really, it’s a case of ‘to each his own,’ because I definitely see the appeal of such a slow-paced film. A bigger issue I had was with the finale overall, though, from the ritual, as it was, to the final shot. Nothing there was particularly shocking or really all that surprising, and I just don’t know if the build-up was really necessary for what we got. Obviously, from Donahue’s character’s viewpoint, this wouldn’t make a difference, but from an audience stand-point, it warrants a mention.
Jocelin Donahue is really the only stand-out here. I really liked Greta Gerwig, and wish that she was more central to the plot, but it wasn’t to be. Affable yet off, Tom Noonan was pretty decent too. The rest of the family, though, from his wife (Mary Woronov) to his son (AJ Bowen) didn’t do much for me, mainly because we never really learned much about them, or saw that much of them to begin with.
This is a well-made movie, with a solid style and shot in an often interesting ways (very stagnant camera angles which worked to this film’s benefit), but when things lean more Satanic and supernatural in nature, it’s easier for me to get turned off. I still think The House of the Devil is probably worth seeing, and I really appreciated the retro feel this had, but I can’t pretend that I loved it, because I didn’t, and while I might revisit this at some point in the future, for the moment, I just find the film average.
This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss The House of the Devil.