Posted on Sunday, October 4th, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
After three viewings, I can say without a doubt that Ti West‘s The House of the Devil is a lock for my top five films of 2009, and for best horror film of the year. My review is taking a while, schedule permitting, because it’s difficult to express and explain just how perfectly THotD works as a gorgeous, genuinely creepy period piece rather than another witty homage to horror films past (a la Scream or Hatchet). Magnolia, currently red hot on the indie scene, will release the film in limited theaters on Halloween, but it’s quietly been made available for rental on Amazon and VOD (at least in some markets, I’ve seen a few complaints).
I wasn’t at Fantastic Fest, where the film showed recently, but I can say that the film is tops for home viewing. Grab some Jiffy Pop and a few friends who dig Roman Polanski’s early female-paranoia-based works, and you’re set. If the far more amateur and low budget, Paranormal Activity, can cross over to the mainstream this season, I firmly believe THotD can as well. That said, West deliberately takes his time building up to the dark arts activities not so subtly parlayed in the title (epic-so-as-to-be-a-dash-humorous). In addition to the twisted, self-aware horror, I love this film as much for the atmosphere (1980s university/dorms, pizza parlor, Amityville-like house), its masterful use of color, and the lead star. Jocelin Donahue is a former Levi’s model and easily my second biggest crush of 2009.
The plot is playfully familiar in its simplicity with ’80s slasher and stalker films; Donahue stars as a college student named Samantha who is hard up for cash and—as fate has it—hired for a babysitting gig on the night of an eclipse. West is superb at capturing a certain college alienation that sets in to coincide with Fall, with church bells, an overcast sky, and even Samantha’s unslutty and alluring style, drawing me in until I cared about her as much as I wanted to see her take a shower. The use of a fantastic score and spooky ’80s classic rock combined with a comely flirtation and fatalism reminded me of a young Paul Thomas Anderson. I’m not the only writer drawing these high-brow parallels if you’re wondering.
That’s the clincher: the movie avoids collapsing into an art school style exercise—a shocking feat in this day and age—because West has made perhaps the only film of the decade that might be mistaken for a true-blue superlative film released in the American ’80s. If you’ve read interviews with West, a young talent popular in horror circles, you know that he’s adamant about the state of film, genre and otherwise, and about his goal of making real, uncompromising movies. He’s already experienced a few battles in his career thus far.
Thankfully, Magnolia purchased the flick and agreed to finally release West’s ideal cut, one that includes a segment where Samantha snoops around the house uncovering quizzical hints. She alsopicks up a few dance moves to the Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another” in the process. I liked Trick ‘r Treat, but I’m infatuated with The House of the Devil. It’s a classic film for Halloween because it’s so knowing, and if you get it, you’ll really get it. A tell-tale sign will be how much you dig the title screen, which transcends the taste of your average font Nazi. More later.