There are movies that are slow burn and then there are movies that are no burn. House of the Devil is
a no burn movie. It starts slow, continues slow, and ends rushed and
uninteresting. Ti West has made a movie that looks good but that has
nothing else going on, and is totally devoid of tension, scares or
thrills.



The film is apparently an homage to horror movies of the 70s and 80s,
although I don’t know which movies West is specifically homaging, as
even the worst films from that period seemed to have something happen
during their runtime. The look of the film is right – West has the
early 80s fetish down to a feathered hairdo – but what does it mean? As
I watched the movie I figured the only reason to set this film in the
early 80s is to keep our heroine without access to a cellphone, as no
element of the 80s – political, social or otherwise – come to bear on House of the Devil.



Joceline Donahue is uniformly wooden as Samantha, a college student who
takes a bad idea babysitting job on the night of an eclipse of the full
moon. All the signs (and her best friend, played by mumblecore darling
Greta Gerwig) point to this job as creepy and dangerous, but Sam needs
the money to rent a new apartment (and we know this because her looking
at the apartment is part of the interminable opening fifteen minutes
that includes her sleeping on steps at her school, eating a bad pizza
and hating her messy and slutty dorm room roommate), so she spends the
night in the titular Luciferian house.



There’s some good stuff in the fifteen minutes of screen time dedicated
to Sam getting the job; character actor Tom Noonan plays the
uber-creepy, eerily soft-spoken owner of the house who has employed
Samantha for reasons other than those listed in the original Help
Wanted ad. Noonan really manages to straddle the line between weirdo
and sweet old man perfectly, and for these few minutes I thought House of the Devil was
on to something, as it’s rare to see movies that make you feel that
deep-seeded mistrust of weird old people so well. But once Noonan (and
Mary Woronov, briefly appearing as his wife), leave the house the
entire movie returns to a state of utter boredom.



Samantha is alone in the big, spooky house – except for the old
couple’s mother, locked away upstairs, the real baby that needs to be
sat. But instead of having Sam deal with the old lady, West has her
kept apart, and that renders all the forthcoming ‘chills’ moot. A
strange sound upstairs as Samantha watches TV? Well, it’s probably just
the old lady. Odd activity? Again, it’s the old lady. Having another
person in the house completely debones House of the Devil, making long slow scenes almost impossible to sit through, and not because of tension or atmosphere.



There’s one excellent event that occurs about thirty or forty minutes
in that gave me some hope, but beyond that Ti West seems to think
someone eating pizza while flipping channels or knocking over a vase
while dancing with headphones is the epitome of dread-building. For me
most of the tension came from the underlying question of ‘Will anything
EVER happen?’ and ‘Will Joceline Donahue EVER deliver a line
convincingly?’, the answers to which are ‘Sort of’ and ‘No.’ The film’s
big finale, a rushed ten minutes at the end, is slightly confusing and
utterly underwhelming and totally conventional. I understand that West
wasn’t look for a gore-a-thon at the end of his picture, but after the
truly lax pacing of the rest of the movie, House of the Devil needed
to end with a bang, whether that be a bang of violence or a bang of
brain-twisting coolness, and neither is the case here. There’s a final
shot in the movie that is held over the closing credits and I sat
through pretty much all of it because I couldn’t believe that this was
the ending it had all been building towards. With a horror movie you
need to either shock me, gross me out or unsettle me, and House of the Devil is incapable of doing any of those things.



There are many people whom I trust who love House of the Devil.
Usually when there’s a difference of opinion on a movie I can get where
they’re coming from, but this case leaves me mystified and baffled –
what is there to this movie besides some nice camerawork that makes it
even tolerable? Some will accuse me of just being a gorehound or an ADD
victim who can’t enjoy a movie that simmers, but that’s unfair. I like
a good simmer, as long as it leads somewhere and as long as the simmer
is… well, simmering. House of the Devil looks great, but it has nothing within it, and certainly nothing scary or tense. If House of the Devil is a throwback to films from the 70s and 80s, it’s a throwback to cheap, boring TV movies of the week.

3 out of 10