Monday, October 19, 2015

Film Review: The House of the Devil (2009)

The House of the Devil (Review)
United States/2009
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No
*A 31 Days of Halloween Special Review!

"...worth watching for open-minded fans of horror, but it's certainly not for everyone."

College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) takes a babysitting job for Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan) and his wife. A simple job turns into a tragic night as everything is not what it seems...

The House of the Devil follows Samantha Hughes. In order to move into her new apartment, Samantha finds she has to come up with $300 within a week. So, after a long process, Samantha finds a job as a babysitter for Mr. Ulman and his wife. However, the babysitting job was simply a guise — Ulman actually wants someone to take care of his elderly mother. After some bickering and negotiating, Samantha takes the job. So, she looks around the eerie home, watches television, eats pizza, then... Boom, it ramps up for a gory final act. The final act is about what you'd expect and the ending was interesting.

The House of the Devil is a slow-burn horror film — emphasis on slow. This is the film's most significant issue. It is incredibly inefficient. There are so many scenes that feel unnecessary or unnecessarily stretched out. We don't have to watch every single movement of the characters' lives — it's not necessary! We don't have to see Samantha lounge around, we don't have to watch her turn on every faucet, we don't have to watch her listening to music, we don't have to watch her friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig), eat candy... There's just too much filler in this film. It makes what could have been an effective slow-burn simply a slow film.

With that off my chest, The House of the Devil isn't all bad. In fact, it is enjoyable. Although style doesn't equal substance, I think the film's 80s horror aesthetic will catch the eye of most horror fans. On top of that, it also uses the good elements of these films to bolster its presentation and narrative. The story is interesting, especially in a genre ruled by zombies and ghosts, but it is thin. I wish the time spent frolicking was used to develop deeper characters. The film has a few gory surprises and some jolting jump-scares, as well. There is some suspense, too, but it does tend to dwindle with the poor pacing.

The acting was good, though. I liked Jocelin Donahue as the lead, she's very charismatic. Tom Noonan is also splendid — great to see him in this film. Greta Gerwig's performance is mostly chewing with her mouth open (stop that!), but she also added some variety into the mix. As I already stated, the film looks gorgeous. It also sounds wonderful. I recently watched The Omen for a review and the resemblance is amazing – the crew really nailed the aesthetic presentation. Writer and director Ti West offers a chilling throwback horror film. Clearly, he understand how to craft a scene, but he is lacking in efficiency. I'm glad to say, I think he's improved since this film; I actually thoroughly enjoyed The Innkeepers and The Sacrament. (Interestingly, I reviewed The Sacrament during last year's 31 Days of Halloween celebration and I reviewed the Innkeepers during 2013's 31 Days of Halloween event...)

Overall, The House of the Devil is a good film. It has an interesting concept, some chilling scenes, great acting, and wonderfully ominous ambiance. Unfortunately, the plot often feels hollow, I often felt detached from the characters, and the film feels more like style-over-substance. I'm a huge fan of slow-burn horror films, like Pulse and The Innkeepers, but the pacing in this can be dreadful. It's worth watching for open-minded fans of horror, but it's certainly not for everyone.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

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