Ti West’s fourth film came after his notoriously shitty Hollywood experience on Cabin Fever 2, where the film got re-edited and re-shot without him. Determined to make a film on his own terms, he then pivoted to the independent slow-burn retro mood piece House of the Devil.
Set up like a classic babysitter-in-peril horror, West takes his sweet time building the tension, punctuated with the occasional bursts of shocking violence (oh hi Greta Gerwig!) before revealing its hand in the last act as a supernatural Satanic flick a la Rosemary’s Baby.
Jocelyn Donohue is excellent as Samantha, a student who desperately needs cash to pay for her new pad, so she accepts an odd babysitting job from Tom Noonan’s friendly but strange Mr Ullman, who is desperate to keep her there, offering her hundreds of dollars for a nights work.
The film’s ending takes things in a delightfully bonkers and tense direction, but the buildup does consist of a lot of creeping around the house, eating pizza and not much else. I love a good slow burn, but there needs to be a bit more going on in the margins to keep me invested. Even with the background detail of the eclipse, AJ Bowen’s creepy pizza guy and lurking figures, the middle act needed a touch more substance to engage interest.
West’s craft is on full display here, with a period-accurate aesthetic and a nice mix of synths and strings from composer Jeff Grace. Although he sets ‘House’ during the 80s satanic panic era, the tone is all 70s in mood and pace, influenced by Polanski and the more patient chillers from that decade. Despite the sag in the middle, The House of the Devil is a creepy, well-crafted chiller and draws a direct line from West’s early films to his latest (and best?) Film X.
3.5 Gerwigs out of 5