HOFF 2011: HOUSE OF THE DEVIL Review

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HOFF 2011: HOUSE OF THE DEVIL Review
[Ti West's House of the Devil screens as part of a North American indie spotlight at the HOFF festival in Estonia, providing a handy excuse to revisit a previous review.]

What does it say about the current state of American horror film when the most acclaimed American indie in years has built its name by turning its back on current trends, instead opting for a note perfect play on the styles of the early eighties?  Fully delivering on the promise of his early films Ti West has been turning heads and setting tongues wagging all year with his latest effort, the unsettling House of the Devil - without a doubt the American indie horror of the year.

The premise is familiar.  Samantha is a college girl striking out on her own and struggling to make ends meet.  Saddled with an unliveable room mate, Samantha has found a place of her own that'll be just perfect.  Only problem is that she can't afford to pay for it.  And so when she discovers a flyer advertising for a babysitter she jumps on the opportunity.  It may not pay much but money is money.  Except the ad hasn't entirely been honest.  When she arrives at the house - an old estate home way out in the country - she discovers that there is no child and is, instead, told that she'll be watching an old woman.  But don't worry!  You won't actually have to do anything, just sit and watch tv, maybe order a pizza. She'll sleep through the night, honest ...

Taking one of the all time classic horror movie premises and working it in timeless style, West here presents a classic religio-horror film, one populated with cultists and devil worship and sinister plans for the young, attractive babysitter.  It's a take on horror that was once dominant but has been all but abandoned in recent years and West is clearly a master of this particular subset.  Not just shot in eighties style, the film is also set there and it effortlessly captures the look and feel of the era without ever descending even remotely into kitsch.  Like the low budget grinders of old, it starts slowly and relies on a steady, deliberate build rather than noise and jump cuts.  This is an exercise in mood and tension, West playing on the audience's knowledge that something is going to happen and their anxiety over what exactly that will be and when it will come.  And when it comes it really comes, the payoff hitting all that much harder for the care taken in building up to it.

A film not intended for the impatient, House of the Devil rewards attentive viewing.  Never nodding or winking at the past but instead exploiting the familiarity of the structure and style to accent the scares, West has delivered a reminder that more doesn't necessarily equal better.  Better equals better and this is pretty damn good indeed.

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More about The House of the Devil

thirsty&miserableSeptember 28, 2009 3:49 AM

I'm looking forward to this. Hopefully it's a better movie than some of the other retro-horror we've been getting like The Strangers. How they managed to ape so many great movies yet end up with something so brain-numbingly drab was quite an achievement.

edeteinSeptember 28, 2009 10:58 AM

I am stunned as to how much Ti West has ripped off from the film "Babysitter Wanted," please tell me someone else has seen this film. I had seen "Babysitter Wanted" at Fantasia 2008 and really liked it a lot. It is tragic that BW never got picked up (I hear that it was on demand for a bit) and has yet to make it onto DVD.

I apologize to Ti West if it was Jonas Barnes who ripped off his idea but BW predates HoD and, when you see both films, it is clear that one of them plagarized/paraphrased the other.

Anyone seen both of these films who can comment? I want to know the truth!

Todd BrownSeptember 28, 2009 12:30 PM

Neither ripped off either. The basic 'girl in a house / virgin sacrifice' thing has been done LOADS of times before this, both movies are riffing on something that used to be a really core sub-genre.

Mr RandallSeptember 30, 2009 9:02 AM

This looks very promising. It's also refreshing to see such a new horror film that doesn't look like some crap music video! I for one don't mind a slow build up - after all a film is a story and the best stories are those that get the brain working and unravel slowly.
Thank god there are still film makers around that respect the art of storytelling and aren't just trying to tag their names onto established works.
I'm really looking forward to seeing this.

ejprayOctober 6, 2009 5:45 AM

I've now seen both films and feel it safe to say that despite sharing similar themes, they are nowhere near the same film. Babysitter Wanted seemed more interested in being a straight-laced and bloody modern horror film whereas The House Of The Devil kept to a more deliberately paced narrative similar to films like Rosemary's Baby and The Omen. Personally, I think that Babysitter Wanted was a good time, but The House Of The Devil was exemplary and easily ranks as one the best occult themed horror films ever made.
By the way, Babysitter Wanted is available on DVD in the UK if anyone's interested and able to play alt-region discs. The House Of The Devil is available ON DEMAND, X-Box Live, and on Amazon VOD(where I had the pleasure of checking it out).

erotikillOctober 6, 2009 12:53 PM

Having only seen Babysitter Wanted, I CAN see the similarities, but it doesn't look like House of the Devil is going to follow Babysitter's pace and grue-- if it does, it looks like they're hiding it from us in the trailers. And here's hoping House of the Devil doesn't turn out to be a Christian scare film (badly) dressed up as a slasher as Babysitter was.

SHot70April 30, 2011 11:59 AM

When I was watching this I thought I was watching Babysitter Wanted repackaged for DVD or something - I was 25 minutes in to House of the Devil before I realized they were two different movies.

The whole set up of getting to the house is the same in both films, then once there, plot is the same as well - Babysitter chose the more visceral route to its conclusion while House of the Devil's mumblecorian moodiness borders on dull at times.