The House of the Devil

The House of The Devil

 

Ty West’s shocker shocks. This little motion picture spends most of its first forty-five minutes (perhaps even longer) following its lead character walking up and down the same steps and in and out of the same rooms. That’s right. We watch a girl go up the stairs and walk down a hallway. We watch her walk down those steps and we watch her sit on a couch, and walk into and out of a kitchen. And all the while we can barely breathe and we are clenching at our seats.

To bring us back to the beginning, this is due to Ty West. He masterfully directs the hell out of this thriller. He understands tension and suspense and what to show, and what not to show. He understands pacing and camera angles, and mood, and everything a Polanski or Roeg would preach about whilst discussing the horror genre. And he hasn’t been around that long, he was born in 1980. But I have a feeling he is here to stay. He is the real deal and I played right into his hands. I bought the ticket. I took the ride, and he held my hand along the journey and I reacted, surely, exactly how he wished me to.

The story is simple. We enter on a young college student who is about to rent her first apartment. She is Samantha, and is played excellently by the beautiful and talented newcomer Jocelin Donahue (who works perfectly as an 80s girl!) Of course she is broke and she needs money. How will she pay rent? Why, luckily she sees an offer for a babysitter. Cash, much needed. She calls. Nobody ever answers the number, but they sure do call back quickly. As it turns out she can have the job if she wants, but there are sure some asterisks.

Firstly, when she gets to the creepy house and meets her employer (played creepily by Tom Noonan), he discloses that there is no child to babysit, but rather an elderly mother. It would seem that young college girls don’t reply to elderly care, so they have fibbed a little. This of course turns our heroine off, but Noonan is desperate. What will it take? $100? $200? $300? $400? Oh, and the film takes place in the eighties. This is a LOT of money we are talking about for one night.

The wonderful part is that we know this is all ridiculous, yet I asked myself…would I take this job? Yes…the money is too good to be true (it IS too good to be true), but you figure…what’s the worst that can happen…and all that green. I could identify with the character, because I could see myself in the situation.

Then again, when he asks, what would it take? Well, she should probably have responded that her friend stay and keep her company. But, that’s a little faux pas.

So, she takes the job, and walks around the house. And we know bad things will happen. We especially know, because in a shocking mood punctuating sequence a la John Carpenter’s best, we watch as her friend gets her head blown clean off. This is real trouble that is brewing.

And that’s what this film is about. Shocks and nerve. Like any other film of its type, its bound to have a better first 2/3s than a finale. Because what it is is a roller coaster. And the best part of a roller coaster is the build up. The finale is simply the fall, and it will never be as horrible as the anticipation we put leading up to it. It’s my one fault with these movies: the ending is bound to underwhelm you.

Which is partially due to the fact that these flicks work best as an exercise…there is no greater good here. West wants to scare and entertain you. This is not high art. Sure, it evokes the eighties film feel expertly (shot on s16mm,) but who ever said these eighties film were high art.

But, like many 70s and 80s thrillers, sometimes you felt a master at work. And, fingers crossed, I think we just might have one this time. His “Rosemary’s Baby,” or “Don’t Look Now” might not be far off. He knows what he is doing, and he knows how to do it well, as I have said. And the boy has confidence. One must if they’re going to film ostensibly the same actions for half the movie and KNOW you’ll be squirming in your seat.

Plus the film was shot in CT, mostly. One of the locations is CCSU. While watching the film, I said, “Hey that street looks like the one down the road from me.” At another point I noticed the CT license plate. Cool stuff, and central Connecticut residents will find much to be familiar about this movie (creepy! And of course it purports, dishonestly, to be based on a true story).  I just wish I could have been there for filming.
I find no fault with this movie, but I wonder if it will have replay value. We know what she finds and what happens. But, then again, the roller coaster works as well the second time around. Of course in that case, you knew what was going to happen the first time. I guess you do here too. You will be scared. You should be if it’s the house of the devil, right?

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