The House of the Devil
the house of the devil | ti west | jocelin donahue | tom noonan | mary woronov | cult | demon | demons | united states | greta gerwig | aj bowen | dee wallace | heather robb | darryl nau | brenda cooney | danielle noe | mary b. mccann | john speredakos | lena dunham
Film: The House of the Devil
Director: Ti West
Writer: Ti West
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov
This film I actually checked out from hearing about it on podcasts. I heard good things, but I’ll admit. I was leery the first time coming in, because I didn’t care for the first time that I saw writer/director Ti West’s previous film, The Innkeepers. I have changed a bit on my thoughts on him and that movie. My first viewing of this one I liked. I got the opportunity to see this one in my local theater, I took it. The synopsis is in 1983, financially struggling 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, putting her life in mortal danger.
It starts off telling us that back in the 1980s, many people believed that there were satanic cults. There were 30% of people believed the government covered up the truth of these and that this is a tale that is showing an event that is unexplained.
We then shift to a young woman, Samantha, looking at an apartment. The landlady is Dee Wallace. She tells Sam there was another young woman who looked at it earlier, but she has a gut feeling about her. She decides she would rather have Sam as a tenant as she reminds her of her daughter. Sam is grateful, but we see some apprehension when it comes to paying the security deposit and other fees. The landlady tells her not to worry about it, she just has to give her the first month’s rent by Monday and it is hers.
Sam walks back to her dorm where she sees that her roommate has someone inside. There’s a sock on the door and she doesn’t answer to the knocks. This forces her back outside and passes by a bulletin board. Two things stand out here. There’s quite a bit of info about the lunar eclipse that is happening that night and a homemade ad looking for a babysitter. She takes one of the slips with the number on it and calls from a payphone. No one answers, so she leaves a message on the answering machine. She walks away and it rings. She’s shock, but she goes back and answers it. The voice is from Mr. Ulman (Tom Noonan), who asks her to meet him in front of a campus building.
She goes back up to her dorm to find the sock is gone. She grabs her book bag and turns in a paper. She goes to the building where she is supposed to meet this person, but they never show. Sam meets her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) for pizza. This is where we learn that Sam doesn’t have a lot of money, can’t afford the place that she is supposed to rent and doesn’t know what to do.
Sam goes back to her dorm where her roommate, played by Heather Robb, wakes up. She tells her that there is a message from some guy. She calls and it is Mr. Ulman. Sam starts to leave another message, but he picks up during it. He apologizes and offers her the job.
Megan drives her out there and offers to stay with her. The two women go inside the house that is in the middle of nowhere. They meet with Mr. Ulman, who asks to speak with Sam in private. He reveals that they have a child, but he is an adult and she’ll actually be watching over his wife’s mother. She’s reluctant as she doesn’t have any training with this. For 400 dollars she will stay though. Megan is upset, because she feels there is something up here. Sam convinces her she’ll be fine.
After meeting Mr. Ulman’s wife, Mary Wornov, she’s left in the house alone. She goes about passing the time and orders a pizza. She gets inquisitive and starts to look into the rooms. She finds that the Ulman’s might not be what they seem and things take a dark turn as the Lunar Eclipse gets closer.
Now as I started off this with saying, I wasn’t the biggest fan of West’s other film, The Innkeepers. After a second viewing of that, I have come around and even though I enjoyed this film the first time I saw it, I was wondering if my rating would come up on seeing it this time. I have to say, if West is good at one thing, it is building the slow-burn, the tension and the atmosphere.
I like how the film straight up reveals in the beginning what this film is going to be about. He introduces Sam so well though that you kind of forget about it. We see red flags throughout and with the information we are given, the darker and the tension just grows. I really like that Sam starts to look around the house, because to be honest, that is what I do when I stayed at friend’s houses growing up as I was always the first up.
This film informs it that is going to take place in the 80’s and I have to give them credit. It feels like it. From the technology they have available, to the clothing, the pizza shop and even how the film is edited. I have to give it a lot of credit for that for sure.
Going off that I know people have an issue with is that because it is a slow-burn, nothing really seems to happen. The tension is built from how weird this whole thing is, coupled with the Lunar Eclipse. I will say the atmosphere of the things that Sam finds build the tension. Everything culminates in the last 20 minutes or so. There is an incident with Megan and Victor Ulman (AJ Bowen), allowing us to know there’s something bad going on. Sam tries calling her a few times and can’t reach her, so that makes it tense. I’m not the biggest fan of the ending though and it is only because of something that happens earlier and the effects used. I think that should have been tweaked to make it more believable. The implications though are great.
I want to move next to the acting of the film, which I think is really good. I had never seen anything with Donahue before this and I have to say, I thought she was great. She establishes things about her character, which make sense later. I’m not going to lie; I have a big crush on her because of this film. Noonan is great as well. There is just something creepy about him and he fits this role. Even though Wornov doesn’t have a lot of screen time, she plays it very similar as well. It is fun to see Gerwig in this, especially what she’s gone on to do later in the more mainstream vein. I also liked the cameos by Wallace and Bowen here as well, as the rest of the cast also rounded out the film for what was needed.
From here I want to move to the effects. West was smart in keeping them to a minimum, but I have to say, the ones we get are great. They look to be practical and it just seems so real. I did establish I had an issue with the gun in the film being more powerful and then less later, but that’s whatever. The blood looks good as do some of the people we see later in the film. I had no issues here other than that slight one. The film is shot absolutely amazing as well.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. I love the tracks that were selected. They definitely feel of the era and there’s a fun dance scene with Sam. It leads her to discover something, but it has a great use of ambient music for sure. I definitely think that the darker songs really fit the scenes and help to build that tension as well.
Now with that said, I definitely enjoyed this film even more with this second viewing. I can get down with a slow-burn like we get here as the mystery of the Ulman’s, their house and the atmosphere of all of it. I really think that even though everything ends in quite the crescendo, the build up works for me. The acting really helps there, there’s a really good cast. The effects I have a slight issue with inconsistency, but overall they’re done practical and look good. I really like the music, from the 80’s tracks to the mood that it sets. This won’t be for everyone, but I like how well this is grounded in reality and how things play out for sure. My rating has gone up and I think this is a good movie.
My Rating: 8 out of 10