The House of the Devil is an old school horror film that gets it all right. The tone of the film is an 80’s era horror film and in a brilliant thought-stroke, the film is made to look as if it were from that time period as well. The title sequence (Roman numerals and all) sets the antique horror film tone for The House of the Devil and is complimented by washed-out film stock. I was immediately reminded of the fake, period piece trailer Don’t from Grindhouse (2007) while watching this film. Both were constructed to look as though they were made decades ago. Producers really paid attention to detail in The House of the Devil, right down to the big brick cassette players, paper plates in fast food restaurants, Coke cups, and the rotary telephones.
After the film begins, the viewer may soon forget that they are watching a film made in 2009. That is how complete and effective the illusion is.
There are no cheap shock cuts or loud noises designed to scare. There is no torture horror in this film. What the viewer finds is plausible horror and a plausible situation (during the era of horror films this film is supposed to be a part of). The main protagonist Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue), is relatable, like most horror film heroines that eventually find themselves in extraordinary situations. That situation, advertised at the beginning of the film, is a satanic cult. There are surprises along Jocelin’s journey one of which being what the cult hopes to gain from all of their nefarious activities. The viewer probably won’t see it coming because its never even hinted at until the last scene in the film.
Even before Jocelin figures out that the situation she is in is wrong, the subtle horror elements begin revealing themselves. Soon she is trapped within them, seemingly cut off from the rest of society and I do mean seemingly. Jocelin could, at any time, walk out of the house and down the road she was driven to the house by her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig). It would be a long hike; maybe hours but she could do it.
Additionally, a moment of scriptural derangement presents itself at the beginning of the third act. Jocelin wants to leave her babysitting gig ASAP yet when a pizza guy comes with a pizza she ordered, she gives him his money, takes the pizza, and slams the door in his face. Why doesn’t she ask him for a ride into town and away from the creepy situation?
The ending to The House of the Devil is one of the most poignant I have seen for the genre, a prefect fit for what proceeded it. It’s simple, elegant, and clean. No big explosions or plot twists. It ends naturally.
Ti West’s The House of the Devil is not a perfect film but it is a nearly perfect period piece horror film. The House of the Devil is almost an origin film for the current horror movie genre. It’s a slow burner unlike the usual flash-in-the-pan, burn out horror films we are currently blessed with.