Movie Review: The House of the Devil (2009)


It’s not often I ever say this in a review, much less in the first sentence: I was impressed with this movie. Yes, you read that correctly. A recently made horror movie that popped up in my Netflix list with a slew of Asylum B-level disasters managed to impress me. Simply put, The House of the Devil is one of the most underrated movies I have ever seen, period. In fact, it might be the best horror movie you have never even heard of, unless you are a fan of director Ti West. I decided to watch this last night without much hope, as a weekend horror movie binge left me craving something good to actually save me. With the other titles that came up along with this one, I did not know what exactly to expect, but the title intrigued me. Sure enough, from the very first shot, I knew this movie was going to be different, and it was, but in an incredible way. During the opening credits, I found myself saying, “How can this movie have been made in 2009? It looks so dated.” Seriously, it looked like it came straight out of the 1980’s. I was not sure if this was intentional or not, but after doing research, I discovered that West used 16 MM film instead of digital, with credit captions, close-ups, and camerawork that were the style in the 80’s. This was going to be an homage to movies from that decade, and he absolutely nailed it.

The House of the Devil manages to do something that horror movies of today constantly fail to do: capture you. From the first scene, we are slowly drawn into this mysterious story, even before we even know what it going to happen. My first impression, after watching not even ten minutes, was that this was a very well-shot movie, with kudos given to cinematographer Eliot Rockett. Then, as the story began, I quickly developed an appreciation for every shot and every angle. How have I never heard of this movie or it’s director before? The screenplay, also written by West, is actually quite simple. A college girl named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) needs some extra cash so she can pay for her own apartment, and after searching around campus ends up calling to find out about an offer for a babysitter needed. After a few calls back and forth, and a wonderful look at the 1980’s via cars and culture (even reminiscent of the 90’s for me; remember when you could smoke in a restaurant?) she ends up at the mansion home of this older couple, played to perfection by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov. In the tradition of Rosemary’s Baby, everything is not as it seems, and Samantha soon finds out that it is not a baby she has to care for during that one night, which happens to correspond with a lunar eclipse.

The person to look after ends up being an elderly woman, the lady’s mother. The couple lied in the ad because more people respond to requests for babysitters rather than adult home care. While she senses something is definitely strange about the two, she takes the job after being enticed with more money. It is her time in this house that really makes this movie. Even though I did not love the events that happened toward the end, the suspenseful build-up is killer. The stellar atmosphere and lighting of the house combined with the music and some very realistic acting from Jocelin Donahue kept me hooked the entire time, and had the audience feeling afraid for her. I could not wait for what was going to happen next. The realistic character portrayals can be seen all around, and I found myself begging for more screen-time from Tom Noonan. He played a very calm, reserved character, with a smooth-as-silk voice, yet he managed to keep an uneasiness about him, making us uncomfortable while watching him, because we expect something bad to happen. Mary Woronov too manages to creep out the audience in her brief time as well.

All in all, The House of the Devil is a modern horror masterpiece with a very slick retro look that should impress all aficionados of the horror genre. I was almost in disbelief at how much I enjoyed this movie, to the point where I considered contacting the director to congratulate him on a tremendous final product, but since this came out nearly five years ago, I feel like I am late to the party. That aside, if you happen to be reading this Ti, please contact me, because I would love a chance to interview the man who delivered this awesome film to fans starved for something other than the usual cheese- or gore-fest. My final rating will be 8 out of 10, and the impression this left leaves me to rank this up with the greats. This is a unique, must-see film, as there is something for everyone, fans and film scholars alike, to find enjoyment.

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