In a day and age where horror movies are generally defined by how loud and gruesome they can be, it's refreshing to see a movie that harkens back to a quieter, creepier time. In the vein of old Stephen King and the demonic thrillers of the 1970's, House of the Devil unleashes an intoxicatingly engaging glimmer of horror - too bad it falls apart just as it's getting good.
In House of the Devil, a young, attractive college student has just found her first apartment. But before she can move in, she needs to pay first month's rent, and to do so she applies for a babysitting job. As is often the case, the babysitting job is at a very creepy house in a very creepy neck of the woods and is owned by a very creepy couple, who claim she's simply to tend to the house for the night. Bad things then happen.
Director Ti West does a superb job of maintaining tension with very little action or direct horror. For modern day horror fans, this may be a problem, but House of the Devil is alluring for this very reason. It looks and feels (other than being in high definition) like a horror flick from thirty years ago, and has that same simple, foreboding mood that has been all but lost in today's movies.
West is assisted by a great performance by Jocelin Donahue. For much of the movie, she's the only person on screen; she carries the picture well. Her performance is subtle and likely won't be remembered for that reason (oh, and because no one has even heard of this movie), but she hits the 1970's heroine on the head.
Unfortunately, the slow build to a fantastic finish doesn't pay off. It's easy to buy into the picture's slow pace when a disturbing, scary ending is expected, but the finale is so brief and unsatisfying you'll blink and it's over. It's a shame, but it's truly difficult to recommend a picture with no climax.
House of the Devil looks great and builds suspense brilliantly, but its climax is so disappointing it's not surprising that it never received a wider release. The horror movie is now available on DVD.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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