By Kelsey zukowski
As a throwback and homage film, The House of the Devil is a beautifully crafted and richly suspenseful escalation. It wonderfully captures the 80s horror feel- a lot of aspects of it from the tone to characters to score to the "babysitter" horror set up felt very in tune to John Carpenter's Halloween. As things escalate it dives in to cult horror and entrapment reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby, particularly at the end of the film when all is revealed. Many more parallels could be drawn to other horror films; the true horror fan mark is all over this one. It was that well crafted homage, horror fan energy that pulled me in. The film is immensely enjoyable particularly in the first act of the film. I just enjoyed being with these characters as the suspicious circumstances were set up with the promise of impending evil.
College student, Samantha (Donahue), finds herself in a desperate financial situation with almost no money to her name. She manages to find a place to live, but she has a short time to come up with the money for rent. After some desperate searching, she comes across a babysitting job that might be the answer to her problems, but there seems to be something incredibly odd about her would-be employer. Her friend, Megan (Gerwig), accompanies her in meeting the family, promising to get Samantha out of here if anything seems creepy or suspicious. Even though, there are a number of red flags and there’s something very unsettling about the man offering her the job, he offers her enough to pay her rent and then some for one night of watching an elderly woman. It’s an offer she can’t quite refuse no matter how unusual it seems. Things start quiet as she settles in to the night, but before long it becomes clear this family is harboring a nefarious secret and preying on her to further their sinister agenda.
The House of the Devil is a slow burn, but fairly early on the stage is set and we have a pretty good idea of how things will go. It’s not the most original premise and there are few surprises, but it still works. The suspicious situation sets up a foreboding and suspenseful tone. There are moments around the middle of the film that are a bit more "still", nothing truly escalating or developing. During these moments I could feel my engrossment fading a little. There were a lot of moments of exploring ones surroundings, letting things slowly unravel approach here, which will work for some and not others.
Most of the horror takes place in the last 20 minutes of the film and from there it takes on a gritty, terrifying turn as we find out just why this job was a little too good to be true. Especially when our lead falls prey to her captors’ whim- the visuals, score, editing, and gritty, intense tone is phenomenally executed. There are a lot of flashes of her captors, showing how they’re making their mark on her in body and mind. I also appreciate that while Samantha is in a terrible position and has no leverage to escape, she fights ferociously. She shows them that she isn’t going to take this lying down- she’s going to fight for her life and freedom and she does so radiantly.
The ending in particular shows a chilling, intense, horrific showdown, but it’s just done and over so quickly and I didn’t feel I really got as much substance or perspective of the root and reasoning for this horror as I wanted. It is a strong ending and all in all a fucked up, entrapping horror story, but I think it fell short of becoming something lasting with more meat. Ideally I would have liked the showdown and horror to happen earlier and to spend more time there.
Alternatively, this is a film I really could see there being a compelling follow up to in what being touched by this evil and torment does to Samantha. Diving more in to the cultish loyalties and power they give themselves to could offer very compelling material that would stay with you more. As a standalone film, it’s a mixed bag for me. Overall, a good film with many very strong moments, but one that felt lacking with some pacing issues, almost completely still and lagging in some moments and feeling a little rushed where it was most important to really dive in and explore the brand of evil before us. It’s not a film that will stay with me, but still worth a view as it offers wonderful chilling moments any horror fan will relish in.
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig
Written & Directed by: Ti West
By Kelsey Zukowski
Kelsey Zukowski- Co-host/ Film Reviewer
Kelsey Zukowski is a screenwriter, film journalist, actor and internationally published model, specializing in conceptual gothic artistry and the horror genre through dark examination. She was heavily inspired at an early age by fellow Cleveland native, Wes Craven’s surreal and ‘fighting through the mind’ brand of horror in particular. She graduated from DePaul University with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Digital Cinema with a concentration in Screenwriting. Zukowski’s start with film criticism began at the age of 14 when inspired by Roger Ebert’s writing, passion, and understanding for cinema, she began writing film reviews of her own. Within a few years she was writing for an array of film and genre websites including HorrorYearbook.com, The Critic’s Word, and FilmArcade.net. She has been a published film journalist, heavily focusing on horror for the past 10 years. After graduating, Zukowski immersed herself as an actor and writer in the indie horror scene starting in Chicago. From there she worked heavily in Los Angeles where she made her first feature, the gritty and psychological horror film, Within These Walls. Zukowski has since relocated to Cleveland where she connected with Dino and joined The Late Late Horror Show.