*Review of Director’s Cut
Back in 2005/2006, Ti West broke onto the indie horror scene with his methodic and artistic quasi-zombie film The Roost. The film immediately divided audiences into the two categories of either love it or hate it, while West’s sophomore effort, Trigger Man, further pushed the divide. At this point it’s become pretty clear that you either dig on Ti’s work, or you don’t. While his latest endeavor, The House of the Devil, which premiered at Tribeca this week, is clearly for the Ti West enthusiast, those who enjoy a solid homage to the 80’s will find themselves in movie heaven.
Taking place in 1983, The House of the Devil carries a very simple plot as college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) takes a strange babysitting job that coincides with a full lunar eclipse. She slowly realizes her clients harbor a terrifying secret — they plan to use her in a satanic ritual. – Magnolia Pictures
Devil is a slow-paced thriller that is not meant for those of you who want non-stop action. While the screenplay’s major flaw is that it’s one-dimensional, and lacks a certain depth you’d find it most films, it keeps true to the homage it encompasses. In the vein of the early Amityville Horror movies and Black Christmas, West takes us on a long and dreary trip into the night of Samantha Hughes – a clone of a late ‘70’s/early 80’s Margot Kidder – who is desperate for money so she can move out of her dorm room (that she shares with an obvious slut). Her character is developed quite well early on as her desperation bleeds from her crappy life situation. While her friend Megan (played by Greta Gerwig, who literally is a show-stealer) offers to help her out, it’s obvious that Samantha is a proud do-it-yourself kinda chick. While the situation presented is obviously “odd”, and even with Megan pleading with her to leave the house, Samantha is determined to pave her own way. This is the sort of exposition heavy character development West is used to bringing to the plate. He used subtle dialogue early on that carries great consequences in later pay-offs. Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), who hires Samantha, continually reminds her that she can order pizza and that the number is on the fridge. While most of the exposition might seem like a time killer, the majority of it bleeds deep into character development and into setting up some great moments in the film – even further making some moments ironic and darkly humorous. “This one night changed everything for me,” Samantha exclaims.
For those of you who choose to stick around during all of the build, chitchat and clever 80’s references (nothing like extra anchovies on your pizza, right Loverboy?), the finale takes a wild trip into the depths of hell as everything changes. While we spend most of Devil following Samantha around the house and are in a state of calm, West’s camerawork becomes erratic, violent and intense during the finale act of the film. In no-way-shape-or-form does the audience leave the theater feeling subdued. On the other hand, the majority of the movie West is filming a hardcore love letter to fans of 80’s horror. The opening credits are beyond epic as he uses quick zooms, freeze frames and off character pans that end in the trees. The title card and credit font scream early ‘80s and the score only exuberates the experience. The details are scary right down to the pay phones and old Coke paper cups you used to get in restaurants back in the day. About 45 minutes in, we’re treated to an insane montage to the tune of “One Thing Leads to Another” (by The Fixx), which features Samantha skipping and dancing around the house with her 3 inch thick portable cassette player.
While the 80’s jokes are fun (like when she plays “Heart and Soul” on the piano) and entertaining on their own, what’s impressive about House of the Devil is that at no point is it self-aware — it could easy be billed as a true “lost” horror film from the 80’s.
The House of the Devil is easily Ti West’s most accomplished work to date and it’s a film that both West and Dark Sky Films/MPI should be very, very proud of. While the audience is sure to be divided once again, Devil does carry enough pop, blood and scares to give the average naysayer a reason to jump ship.