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The House of the Devil review: the best movie you’ve never seen

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While the world around us descends into chaos amid the current Covid-19 pandemic, the public remains restrained to their living rooms. But there are a few options to fill the time while waiting for everything to (hopefully) return to normal. 

Either gulp down the cocktail of stress, anxiety, boredom and loneliness or get productive: finish up uni work, create and consume art, FaceTime friends.

For me, having kept away from feature-length movie reviews since December, this situation seems to be the best option to get my thoughts on movies back out into the world. With cinemas closing throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK, as well as multiple movie releases postponed, this is also a great time to go back and watch cinema of the past.

My own first step in doing this?

The House of the Devil

★★★★☆

Ti West / 2009 / USA / 95 mins

While 80s throwbacks such as Stranger Things, IT and Ready Player One were most popular from the mid to late 2010s, the renaissance of sorts was really kicked off in the late 2000s with movies such as Hot Tub Time Machine. Starting off at the beginning of this boom for 80s nostalgia was The House of the Devil

Set in 1983, The House of the Devil follows financially struggling college student Samantha Hughes who takes a strange babysitting job that coincides with a full lunar eclipse. She slowly realises her clients harbour a terrifying secret, putting her life in mortal danger. 

Despite critical acclaim, the film was released through video on demand (VOD) and given a short theatrical run, making only $100,000 at the box office and fading into obscurity. It could be argued that it was released in the right place but the wrong time with the explosion of streaming coming years later, however, this is most likely incorrect. 

Ti West’s use of genuine 16mm film stock and camera techniques to recreate the look and feel of a 1980s horror movie – rather than overuse pop songs and movie posters with the odd Rubik’s cube thrown in seemed to benefit the more successful throwbacks. While this could be seen as mere imitation in theory, it shows strenuous attention to detail by West. The script’s slow-burn pace and West’s subtle directing style allows the film to focus on character, build suspense and push the narrative, rather than create easy scares. 

The acting from the limited cast allows the audience to get sucked into the story, with performances creating believable, and often likeable, characters while still sticking to individual archetypes. Jocelin Donahue puts in an understated performance as Samantha and Greta Gerwig putting in perhaps the film’s most charismatic performance as Samantha’s best friend Megan.

Sadly the film’s one weak link is perhaps the most important. The ending. The final twenty minutes or so drop all of the originality, subtlety and suspense that had built up. Due to the rest of the film’s fresh take on older ideas, the audience assumes the same would be done with an ending that seems predictable from the get-go. Sadly, The House of the Devil goes down the predictable route and does exactly what one would expect to happen.

The House of the Devil’s impact may be deflated by the time the credits start rolling, yet its bending of horror traditions and character stereotypes allow it to remain a very original and impressive piece of filmmaking. A wonderful ode to the 1980s before it was cool and a masterclass in both style and suspense. The House of the Devil is one of the best movies you’ve never seen.

You can watch The House of the Devil now on Amazon Prime and Shudder UK.

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