Where The House of the Devil gets it right, it gets it really right. From the opening credits to the music to the general style of it, if you didn’t know any better, you could easily be fooled into thinking this was a film from the late 70s or early 80s as opposed to 2009.
College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) has found the perfect apartment near campus to get away from her slob of a roommate who’s always having sex with whomever (it’s implied in one brief scene with her that it’s more than one person). The landlady has a good feeling about Samantha and offers to waive the security deposit and just needs the first month’s rent. The problem is Samantha can’t afford it, so she answers an ad for a baby-sitter for the Ulmans (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov). Mr. Ulman seems a bit strange, but Samantha needs the money and takes the job, against the wishes of her best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig). When she arrives at the house, Mr. Ulman informs Samantha that he lied and the position isn’t to watch their child, but rather Mrs. Ulman’s mother. Although initially suspicious, Samantha still agrees to stay after Mr. Ulman agrees to pay her four hundred dollars for the night.
As I said at the beginning, when the film gets it right, it really gets it right. Director Ti West proves that he’s an absolute master of the slow-burn suspense-build. Nothing really happens throughout most of the movie, but West does such a great job of slowly building up to things and Donahue is great at conveying her fear and uncertainty at being in this old, large house that I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. This film works perfectly, both as a throwback to classic horror films and as a horror film that can stand on its own.
Unfortunately, when the film reaches the climax, things get a little shaky. As far as direction goes, it’s handled great. Effectively creepy with incredible visuals. But the logic of the characters just makes no sense from what we’ve seen of them up to this point. The villains of this movie are devil-worshippers, I don’t think I’m giving away anything by saying that. But some of the logic they use just seems inconsistent and wonky at best, to the point that I found myself sitting there thinking, “wait a minute…why would they even DO that?” during scenes where I should have been thinking, “ohshitohshitohshitohshit!” Their behavior completely took me out of the flow of the movie and broke the momentum that West had spent all this time building up. And the movie doesn’t hinge on the villains behaving like morons, so with just some rewriting, this could have easily been fixed.
If you’re going to watch this movie, and if you’re a fan of classic horror I recommend you do, then just be warned. Don’t think about the logical holes of the villains, because it will rob you of the scares to be had in the climax.