HOFF 2011: HOUSE OF THE DEVIL Review

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
[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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