Samantha is a college student who desperately wants to move out of her college dorm (and away from her promiscuous and messy roommate) into a house off campus. Her new landlady has accepted her as a tenant and wants the first month’s rent in a few days, but Samantha is cash strapped. And now Samantha has set herself up to be in a situation where she will be making some bad decisions.
Ah yes, those bad decisions always make for a great basis of a movie. I will admit that horror has never been a favorite genre of mine, but over the past couple of years I’ve found myself delving into this genre a little more and have discovered some gems here and there. The House of the Devil was the directorial debut for filmmaker Ti West (The Innkeepers, The Sacrament), and I was really impressed at the attention to detail he put into this film. The film takes place around the year 1983, and has an overall early ‘80s feel to it from the outfits and the feathered hair to the bulky Sony Walkman that Samantha carries with her. I immediately became hooked on this film with the opening credits, which are modeled after old horror films and accompanied by a killer ‘80s-style musical score. I dig modern retro styles, especially having grown up in the 80s myself.
A posting on a campus bulletin board advertising a babysitting job gives Samantha some hope about her cash needs, and she ends up at a large house in a remote area outside of town. The film is moving somewhat slowly up to this point, but it has also given us time to get to know the main character and her situation. This mansion-sized house is owned by Ulmans, and Mr. Ulman (and a great performance by Tom Noonan) reveals to Samantha that this isn’t exactly a babysitting job, but he needs her to be a caretaker for his wife’s mother while they are away for the evening. Samantha explains she feels unqualified to care for an elderly woman, but Mr. Ulman starts offering more and more cash until there’s enough to cover the rent for the house she wants to move into, and, well, suddenly all the red flags that have sprung up around this situation are disregarded.
After The Ulmans leave, Samantha is left on her own to explore the house. The film’s pacing continues to be slow and steady, but the tension of the film continues to grow. The house becomes another character as Samantha discovers hallways, stairways, and rooms that all feel like a big puzzle. This all builds up for the final act of the film, which reveals the true reason why Samantha was hired for the job. And while all this is going on, there’s also a full lunar eclipse event which further adds to the mystery.
I was glad for the opportunity to see this film recently at a movie theater. I found myself absorbed by the story and the characters, especially a heroine who’s naive because of her age, but not dumb. The film relies on its pacing and its few, but well timed, jump scares. I’ve read some criticisms that the film moves too slowly, but I found the pacing to be just right. I liked the overall story and appreciated the details both visually and audibly in the background. And there’s a nice, creepy ambience to the film that makes it worth seeking out.