The House Of The Devil
Who's house? The Devil's house!
I had heard an interview from Ti West, the director and writer of The House of the Devil on NPR during a recent road trip. Yes I still listen to the vast wasteland that is the radio, but it's mostly for NPR and the occasional decent local or college station. The way West described what he was going for with this movie intrigued me and I decided I would take him at his word and check it out. Would I be as enamored with it as critics or would I once again be disappointed by the opinion of the masses?
The House of the Devil stars Jocelin Donahue (The Burrowers) as college sophomore Sam Hughes. Sam cannot stand her dorm roommate and has found a new place to move into. Unfortunately, she does not have enough money and decides to search for quick money. She comes across an ad for babysitting and calls the number. Sam leaves a message on an answering machine, but when Sam hangs up, the pay phone instantly rings. Mr. Ullman (Tom Noonan, Robocop 2, Eight Legged Freaks) is on the other line and suggests they meet outside the Student Affairs office, but he does not show. When Sam returns to her dorm, Mr. Ullman has already left her a message and offers her $100 to babysit that night. It's a particularly important night because a solar eclipse is occurring. Sam gets a ride from her friend Megan to Mr. Ullman's house in the woods. There, Mr. Ullman reveals that Sam is babysitting his mother, not a child. Sam eventually convinces Mr. Ullman to pay her $400 for the night and Megan, who warned Sam to leave if it gets weird, furiously leaves. Mr. and Mrs. Ullman leave for the night and Sam is left in the creepy house with the unseen mother. Down the road, Megan is stopped by a man who shoots her in the face. As the night wears on, Sam becomes more uneasy with her job. She constantly calls Megan, but she doesn't answer. A mysterious van is parked outside and Sam becomes very scared. Are the Ullmans involved, what is the deal with the mother and what does this all have to do with the Devil?
I'm a bad wittle devil
Jocelin Donahue does a very good job as Sam. She does a good job of the damsel in distress and as the revenge-seeking badass. Tom Noonan is fantastic as the ultra creepy Mr. Ullman. His soft voice and awkwardness let the audience know that something is wrong, but can't figure out what. Ti West is a great young director and you can see he has a bright future when you watch this movie. From the homages to late 70's and early 80's slasher and revenge horror movies, to the creative shots, to the atmosphere he creates, this movie hits just about all the right points of horror. It has a great look and the final few minutes are full of intense action and suspense.
With all that being said, I must have loved the movie, right? Well, not exactly. West goes for the slow build where the audience knows something is going to happen, but doesn't know when it will happen. That's fine, but nothing really happens for the first hour. I got to the point where I literally said “There's 25 minutes left, something better happen.” There was a decent payoff, but that doesn't mean I have to be bored for the majority of the movie. I understood what he was going for and applaud the effort, but beyond the opening scene, the scene where Megan is shot, and the title of the movie, you'd have no idea devil-worshippers are involved. You can easily step away from the movie to make and eat food for 20 minutes and not miss anything important. Critics praised the slow burn, but it bored me. If we know something is going to happen, and West knows we know, why not let more trickle out instead of a geyser of action in the last 25 minutes?
When I review these movies, I have to ask myself the basic question, “Am I entertained?” Did The House of the Devil entertain me? I can give a definitive “Yeah, kinda.” There are lots of good things that the movie does and the last quarter of the movie is great, but you really have to commit to finishing the movie. It's a bit too slow for my liking, but ultimately, The House of the Dead worth your time.