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rochefort [Film Festival 09.28.09] movie review horror

Year: 2009
Directors: Ti West
Writers: Ti West
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 7 out of

Day four of Fantastic Fest folks, this one ending with Ti West's "House of the Devil," an old school horror picture along the lines of "The Tenant" and "Rosemary's Baby". Young college student, Samantha (Jocelin Donahue), has just found the perfect apartment, but doesn't have enough money for her first month's rent, so she answers a very sketchy babysitter ad for a couple in the country (played by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov). And yeah, when a movie is called "House of the Devil", you know that by the end of the night poor Samantha is going to be the victim of some truly sordid evildoing.

Let's just go ahead and get this out of the way: Your enjoyment of this film is very dependent on how many nights you've spent watching 70's b-movies that featured haunted houses or devil worshipers. This is as much of a genuine throwback as last year's "Black Dynamite", with the difference being that this time around the aesthetic being emulated is that of the slow burn, what's-around-the-next-corner variety. And we're talking a very, very slow burn. It's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, partly because the pace is stubbornly consistent with that of its obvious influences, and partly because the movie emphasizes atmosphere over gore.

But in those respects, it's a total success. The cinematography, sound design and excellent score all play like honed versions of what has come before in the best of these types of films, and the result is an honest to gosh mood piece. The scares are few and far between, but none of them are of the hackneyed, cheap variety that we've come to expect from modern slasher films and their ilk. And much like the above-mentioned "Black Dynamite" and the recent French farce "OSS 117", you could easily pass this off as a recently-discovered relic from the 70's if not for the fact that "House" is shot with a 70's style but set in the 80's, and gets the details of both right. Noonan, playing a restrained version of the sort of role Vincent Price used to do eight or nine times a year in his heyday, is, as usual, simultaneously creepy and charismatic, and Woronov is likewise restrained and highly effective in her few brief scenes. Lead Donahue, who's in pretty much every scene save one, carries the picture with confidence, and is both likable and believable.

But back to the pace. This is where some (maybe most) horror fans will divide on the film. "House" is in no hurry to get to its climax, and some scenes play out far longer than the typical modern audience will have the patience for. And it probably won't help that, if you've seen this kind of film before, you won't be even remotely surprised by where it's all headed. I feel like I was in the best frame of mind for the proceedings since I'd already heard several accounts of what to expect, but I can understand why a few people in the theater got a bit antsy. But horror can afford to slow things down every once in a while and revel in some good old-fashioned spookiness, and "House" is a welcome alternative.

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Ben Austwick (12 years ago) Reply

I really liked this when I saw it at Frightfest but thought it was let down by the ending, which was a bit of an anti-climax and not the all-out "The Devil Rides Out" madness I'd been hoping for. Considering the film is really just one big build up a lot more could have been done.

It's certainly made me want to see more of Ti West though, it's a very assured film and he's a young director with some great stuff in him yet I suspect.


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

Great review, you nailed it. I really loved this movie, but it won't be for everyone.


Legatus (11 years ago) Reply

This was quite a dissapointment for me. Heard good things about it and had no problems with the pacing. I like slow-burners and thought i was in for a treat with the great colors and 70's-look. But it fell completely apart in the last ten to fifteen minutes. It lost all its creepiness. Noonan is great as is the main actress who also fits perfectly in the era the film is paying hommage to. Loved the zooms and it´s a great example of paying tribute without reverting to adding scratches, dust and other gimmicks like GRINDHOUSE did. Too bad West dropped the ball at the end.

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