- Running time:
- 93 minutes
- Jocelin Donahue -
- Tom Noonan -
- Mr. Ulman
- Mary Woronov -
- Mrs. Ulman
- Greta Gerwig -
- AJ Bowen -
1980s college sophomore Sam (Jocelin Donahue) is hard up for cash and accepts a job babysitting for a mysterious couple (Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov) on the night of a total eclipse over the objections of her best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig).
The buzz: Writer-director Ti West's film isn't just set in the early 1980s, it looks like it was made in the '80s too. That's part of the charm of an intentionally old-fashioned change of pace from today's frenzied horror (which, to be fair, is a logical extension of the slasher craze popularized in the '80s).
The verdict: This is one slow, yet oddly spellbinding, horror film. West clearly loves the genre, and buffs will admire the savvy way he tips his hat in all sorts of directions—a little "Rosemary's Baby" here, some "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" there, and plenty of "Halloween" lurking in the shadows. The movie is a living, breathing nostalgia piece oozing period authenticity in every aspect of its creation. Just watching Sam walk around town in an eerie title sequence complete with a synth score, freeze frames and random zooms is enough to prime viewers for retro fun. West takes his task seriously, never milking the time period for obvious laughs, but it bears repeating that his style values slow burn suspense over fast and easy slasher scares. A big chunk of the movie is spent following Donahue (a former model who makes for a gorgeous and natural leading lady) around a creepy, almost empty house. Eventually all hell does break loose, and West pushes the film into overdrive. The shift isn't entirely convincing—West's proficiency at maximizing tension suddenly goes missing in the sinister but rushed finale. It's great that "House of the Devil" doesn't wimp out at the end, but the movie might have been even stronger if the filmmaker exercised the same kind of patience with the action that he does in the build-up to it.
Did you know? West asked Donahue to watch Ralph Macchio's performance in "The Karate Kid" to help prepare for her role. See if you can spot the "wax on, wax off" influence on her work.
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