In this final week before Halloween, I am going to post short daily reviews of horror films. This first installment in the series is about the film The House of the Devil. Filmed with 1980s-technology and capturing the aesthetic of that era, The House of the Devil follows a college student who is struggling to make ends meet after she decides to move out of her dorm room and find her own place. In order to earn some extra cash, she responds to a babysitting advertisement. As you can expect, the whole situation goes awry. I want to keep these reviews as spoiler-free as I can (though a bit farther down in this review, I get a little spoilery), so I’m going to leave my plot recap at that.
This film does a lot of things right. As I said, it absolutely nails the 80s horror film aesthetic. The acting is believable when it is supposed to be, and the creepy house owner is perfectly portrayed. I think the rhythm and pacing of the script is also good, since it takes just enough time to set up the main character before getting into the creepiness. The film doesn’t make you wait so long that you give up on it, but it also doesn’t rush into the horror without connecting you to these characters.
However, I did have some issues with the film. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for me to pin down exactly what I found “wrong” with it. But I’m going to try (warning: spoilers coming up). The film’s title implies the supernatural, which sometimes doesn’t really get me truly scared. I was more afraid of the human element in this film—the creepy dude, his wife, the slow reveal of the photos that imply a much more sinister story than the babysitting adverts, etc. The only human element that didn’t really scare me was the pizza guy, who just sort of came out of nowhere and therefore had no tension built into his villainy, for me. So by the end of the film, when some weird supernatural full-moon Rosemary’s-baby-type stuff happens and we finally see the “mother,” it kind of took me out of the moment and seemed… “Silly” is the wrong word, because it wasn’t just pure silliness. But it wasn’t frightening to me and the final scene was predictable. Yet:
I get the sense that I’m also supposed to feel that way. The movie, filmed in time-period-appropriate style, is very self-aware. It’s an homage to that era of filmmaking—a sort of love letter to those horror movies. So it makes some of the same predictable moves that have become predictable precisely because we’ve watched those old classic horror films so many times. I guess what I’m saying is that at the end of the day I’m not sure that my lack of total enthusiasm for The House of the Devil represents a fault in the movie or if it’s more of a fault in me—perhaps a fault in the way I watched it, my expectation of having expectations subverted, whatever.
I liked the film, but I didn’t love it. I’d recommend it, but I probably won’t watch it again.
Stay tuned this week for my daily reviews, and add me on Letterboxd if you’re into movies.