John Ary here with another installment of Ain’t It Scary Reviews. Today we spend the night with a babysitter who takes job that seems too good to be true from a very tall creepy guy.
The House of the Devil is so simple and elegant. This chiller takes us back to the 80’s, when thrillers were shot on 16 millimeter, babysitters were constantly in danger and horror films were made to be scary.
We meet a college student needing to raise 300 bucks by Monday to pay rent. When she goes to a babysitting job at a big house in the middle of nowhere on a spooky night, things don’t seem right... but she needs the money. Director Ti West spends the first 2 acts setting up the atmosphere, the tension, and the anticipation. It’s unsettling and eerie. We follow the girl as she explores the house, finding small clues that add-up to a startling realization. So little happens, but when we get to the big reveal in the third act, the audience has been primed for its impact.
The devil is in the details with this one. Each frame is a joy to look at. Whether it’s the retro-ness of a college dorm room from the 80’s or the eerie interior of the creepy house or the feathered hair of our main character, West has a gift for building a cinematic world that feels like it’s been plucked out of time. Also, there are only a handful of characters and locations. By the end, each character has had time to disclose their motivations. We understand what makes them tick. This makes the climax even more compelling as the babysitter must fight her way out of the house. Also, we’ve spent so much time exploring the home with the babysitter, we understand the layout. When she’s running around, drenched in blood, we understand exactly where she’s running too and we’re running with her.
This doesn’t feel like a straight-up homage to the 80’s. Rather, West is mining bits from that era (babysitters in peril, satanic cults, potentially haunted houses) and using them to tell his own unique story. There is some blood and violence, but it’s used more as an exclamation mark than a way to drive the plot or get cheap thrills. This is not Friday the 13th. No. It feels more like Hitchcock. We casually learn about our protagonist as she slowly comes to understand the frightening details of their situation.
The only problem I had with the film (even though its only a very slight problem) is the finale. It would be hard for any ending to live up to the first two-thirds of this movie. Your mind is given too much time to write your own horrible, disgusting, chilling ending. The final act is just fine, and it has a nice twist, but I doubt it will rival what you come up with in your head as our heroine slowly investigates the house.
The House of the Devil is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s also available on Blu-ray here.
Check back in tomorrow for another Ain’t It Scary Review as Vincent Price attempts to resurrect his wife from the dead while going to great lengths to kill a group of archeologists in the most complicated ways as possible.
Here’s a look back at a few of the Ain’t It Scary Review installments that you might have missed:
The Ground Rules to the Project
#1 Son of Frankenstein
#2 Scream, Blacula, Scream!
#3 Black Sabbath
#5 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
#6 Invisible Invaders
#7 The Mummy’s Curse
#8 Lord of Illusions
#9 Night of the Demons
#10 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde