I know the retro thing has been done a ton of times at this point, to varying degrees of success. In 2009, for me at least, it still felt novel. And all the promo material leading up to the release of Ti West’s The House of the Devil filled a void I didn’t really know was in me. So it was with great anticipation that I originally sat down to watch the film on its release. It instantly became a favorite, not only of the decade or millennium, but of ever. It’s so fucking good.
The minute the opening theme kicks in, I’m sold. The music in this film, both score and pop tunes, is just fantastic and really grounds the whole thing.
The qualifier ‘slow burn’ gets bandied about, but this film is really the definition. And it’s effective. We spend a good amount time just watching Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) walk around in the cold listening to her Walkman.
Also, spoilers on stuff, if you haven’t watched the movie.
She checks out a house she hopes to rent (The Landlady = Dee Wallace), she sits across from her friend while her friend, Megan, eats pizza in a really gross way. Samantha sits silently in her dorm room with her slobby roommate. After a couple of weird phone calls with Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), she agrees to babysit for him and his wife (Mary Woronov). When she gets to the house, things are kinda creepy. She learns they don’t have a child and that they lied because people are put off at the idea of sitting for his elderly mother. She’s told Mother stays up stairs and Samantha will barely even know she’s there.
The Ulmans leave and Samantha pokes around the empty old house.
And later, of course, she’s dancin’ to The Fixx:
But, we really need to talk about Tom Noonan. He’d weird as shit in this film. Masterfully weird. He’s weird on the phone, before you even see his face and he’s weirder in person. You can tell he’s not telling her the full truth and something about the way he bullshits around everything slowly…he’s just fucking weird. To the point that it’s almost hard to believe she agrees to stay, despite getting paid quite a bit. She really wants that Dee Wallace house.
The film stays almost 100% in Samantha’s POV, and there is barely any time that she is not on screen. Though this makes the one scene where she is offscreen feel extra jarring. Megan drops her off at the house, and after she leaves she ends up getting killed by AJ Bowen. The main purpose this scene serves is to let the viewer in on that shit is actually going on and that Samantha is definitely in danger. But again, leaving Samantha’s POV is an odd move. Still an effective scene though.
After Samantha eats some drugged pizza, she collapses and wakes up in her underwear, tied to a pentagram on the floor. The film’s ending makes good on the all the Satanic Witchcult shit the promo material promises. Part of me, though, almost wishes that after she collapses, she wakes up tied to the pentagram and then the credits roll. Like, if we never see her friend get murdered and the whole movie is just Samantha and the viewer trying to figure out if something fucked up is going on, and then we see that, yes, something fucked up is going on, but we don’t see what happens after…I don’t’ know, I’d kinda like that. But either way, that’s not how it goes, and we get see this cult doing their Satanic ritual shit. It’s like classic cult.
I know for some, the length of time Ti West spends building shit up is a turn off. Sometimes watching people walk around and do nothing is fucking boring. But in The House of the Devil, the whole slow burn really builds some good tension and living in Samantha’s small world for the day is fun.