THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (Ti West, 2009, USA)
Samantha’s common sense is eclipsed by her desperation as she accepts a babysitting job that seems too good to be true. Writer/Director Ti West’s celebration of classic horror films splices together sub-genre tropes by splicing Satanism, haunted house, and slasher conventions into a cohesive and mordantly suspenseful narrative. He utilizes heavy film grain to paint the cinematography with a retroactive appeal, and the soundtrack’s eerie piano taps nervously upon the tingling spine. Echoes of Wendy Carlos’ synthesizer impregnate the trauma with devilish subtly.
The setup: Samantha is a poor college girl who accepts a babysitting job from a creepy older man, his skeletal presence a dominant black shadow that diminishes her sensibilities like the total eclipse that darkens the witching hour. Left alone in Hill House (or its equivalent), she is possessed by curiosity until assaulted by demonic forces looking to harbor the moon’s mystical powers.
Style: West sketches the narrative with charcoal characterizations, never revealing too much about Samantha’s past: it is enough that she is an innocuous student with a disparate roommate. This threshes the chaff and allows the mystery to grow. West uses classic tracking shots and languid camera movements as Samantha haunts the manor, ratcheting the spring-wound tension. The bulk of the film is in this cursory investigation, but we know that the gruesome payoff is coming. The first murder is not unexpected though we struggle to fit it into the chain of events. The suspense builds without release, and here West makes a structural error: he allows the audience to see behind a locked door, foreshadowing the heroine’s fate. When the delivery guy is introduced, his boots reveal the intricate plan. A plan that doesn’t make much sense, but serves as only a process to get her alone in a scary house. The final sacrifice and bloody escape owes as much to DePalma’s CARRIE as early 70’s Hammer Films.
Conclusion: West’s attempt to recapture the halcyon days of the horror genre is enjoyable and refreshing, relying upon suspense instead of gore and misery to tell his tale. The final shot is ripe with a demonic fruit, as Satan’s heir awaits birth into the world…once again. Final Grade: (C)