Saturday, September 24, 2011

The House of the Devil (2009)

A trap in the making

The '60s/'70s-esque title grabbed my eye when I first got ahold of this. I didn't even read up about it, which lead to being caught off guard as to how much of a homage it was to the '80s, not just with storyline but in style, music and even filmmaking mechanics and look. If Dee Wallace didn't look so much older in a guest appearance, I would have said this was a lost and restored find. They literally went all out with the recreation of this decade that had a mind and flair of its own. Yet they didn't completely capture the flashy and trendy side in actual '80s films, which still leaves room to also give nods to earlier time periods as well. Back when old Hammer films, "Rosemary's Baby," "The Exorcist" and "The Omen" were new and shocking with evil thoughts and questions about the stronghold of religion.

A young college student named Samantha Hughes wants to get away from her roommate situation and get a place of her own but first needs some extra cash to make that happen. By chance, she finds an add on a bulletin board at her dorm and sets out as a do-it-herself independent woman in the decade of the fitness craze and Walkmans. After some setbacks, the client desperately needs her that night and would pay double. How could she possibly pass that up? In her eagerness, she misses some of the subtle warning signs: eclipse that night, odd call backs, getting easily hired, must be there tonight, pays double, out of reach location.

With the exception of the opening title sequence, the film is often handled in a basic manner, where the pacing moves gradually and the performances are more unadorned to portray regular people. This is a horror film that doesn't always go for the throat even like other films that came out in the '80s. The tone is more '60s/'70s despite how everything looks. It builds up to a kind of realistic uncomfortableness at first, whereas other filmmakers would have had the settings look like something out of "Beetlejuice" to make the point obvious. The little things count though: the freakishly tall man with a cane, the overly inquisitive wife, the bait and switch. She's locked into the situation in an unfamiliar place and by now can't look back, not because of some supernatural hypnosis but instead due to manipulative forces that don't want to set off any red flags, not to mention are waiting for just the right time.

A little curiosity and snooping leads to finding out some information that puts her at unease. The locks of the doors and lights inside become her only friend, even her mind detecting different senses works against her. This is a slow creeper with some events here and there that would pertain to what it's building up to. The inevitable is coming, you just never know when, how or what--the key word is anticipation, with the title of the film looming over like a large and ominous shadow. They could have used a few more scenarios in the meantime as the balance is more tipped towards being nearly veiled. After a certain point, it played a little too much on the realism shtick since the audience is well aware of the house and an established atmosphere. The idea wasn't to force it, just some areas were played out somewhat safe and go in a circle. This works on your basic senses, such as being constantly uncomfortable and knowing something is not right, but not knowing what that "something" is, which leads to a series of doubts and second guesses. Ever been in that nerve-wracking situation before where you get to laugh it off later? Well, you've never been to "The House of the Devil"...

Rating: 7.5/10

Director: Ti West (The Roost, Trigger Man)
Stars: Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov
Link: IMDB

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