Monday, July 27, 2009
Fantasia Film Fest Review: The House of the Devil
The House of the Devil (2008) imdb Fantasia
Directed by Ti West
Written by Ti West
If the producers of this film were smart, they would deny that Ti West wrote and directed this film and claim that it was a lost film of the early eighties that they found in a drawer at Paramount. Say a lost Tobe Hooper film that Tobe did right before doing Poltergeist. Something that Steven Spielberg bought to keep from competing with Poltergeist and shoved in a drawer somewhere.
Because it's that good. The House of the Devil feels like it should have been released back in 1982, from the feathered hair of the leads, to the Walkman, to the music and sound, to the slow build of the suspense, to the vintage titles. It is even a mash-up of the late seventies obsessions with baby-sitters in peril (When a Stranger Calls) and satanism in the suburbs (The Omen). Most importantly, it has all the slow-burn intensity of the great horror films of that period.
The baby-sitter in peril is Samantha (Jocelin Donahue). A college student, she is doing baby-sitting gigs because she needs money for a new apartment and desperately wants to get out of her dorm. Her roommate is a sex-addict and a slob and Samantha as a neat-freak germaphobe finds both behaviours repulsive. The job that Samantha ends up taking, on the night of a full lunar eclipse, is obviously (cue Admiral Ackbar) a trap, more obvious to the audience than to Samantha because we know that the name of the film is The House of the Devil, because her employer is Tom Noonan, the original Red Dragon from Michael Mann's Manhunter and because Samantha is too self-absorbed to notice that she is in danger.
There is a danger to read too much into it, but there is a very real sense that this film is pitched perfectly at the divide between the sex and drugs disco party lifestyle of the Seventies and the money-obsessed, self-absorbed Eighties.
There is even a sense in which the film (with the benefit of filmmaker hindsight) acts as a horror metaphor explaining how the drugs and sex excesses of the Seventies led to the health catastrophes of the Eighties, especially AIDS. Samantha may not know exactly why she is a germaphobe, nor why she is so feaked out by the house she is sitting at, but her anxieties are well-placed.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
-William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming