Screened at The Frida Cinema
As a simple experiment on slow-burn cinema, The House of the Devil proves itself most effective. The majority of its runtime is composed of attempts to woo you into embodying the main character and to essentially become paranoid with her for really the smallest reasons alone that are amplified, however, by our own minds’ cagey instincts, exposing an ironic battle between warranted and artificial fear. I also can’t help but commend too how when this slow burn ends, it’s for a reveal so charmingly straightforward and uncomplicated that completely sets out to rivet it through some seriously fazing and possessive editing. While I do genuinely believe this dichotomy of self-destructiveness and self-cautiousness that makes up the build-up of Ti West’s cult classic is the strongest concept in it, I don’t believe that the film necessarily reaches its fullest potential for which this meritorious originality can truly offer.
Despite the absolute ambition here to nail the shameless visual technique that literally feels stripped straight out of the 70s during the Black Christmas (1974) era of hometown horror cinema and to indulge the audience by its coda with relentless adrenaline filmmaking, the actual slow-burn of showing us a person doing nothing but growing into her own curious alarm system rarely uses meaty craftsmanship itself though to communicate this. The bulk of The House of the Devil kind of just feels like those Baby Driver (2017) sequences where the main character jams while carrying out his ordinary duties or tries to make a physically uplifting rhythm for these mundane actions — this time with a walkman nonetheless cause we get retro on West’s turfs! —, although combined this time with a collection of meekly provocative house item shots or stereotypical oddball stranger encounters to stimulate tension in the viewers from this anxiety our character begins to self-develop, which is all honestly somewhat underwhelming for what could’ve been imbued with significantly more effort to transport us into this main character’s mental environment despite it at least being still satisfying to frolic along with; the peeps at pure normality are the strongest moments before the absurdity.
Regardless, like X however, Ti West is quite capable of replicating established genre styles while also offering his own innovations to balance and warrant his artistic content and contributions to horror cinema. The House of the Devil could’ve been something frankly mind-blowing and masterful all the way from start to finish, but it still ultimately succeeds as a revolutionary test-drive exercise for a very tempting gimmick, and it’s TREMENDOUSLY fun to see it accumulate. The film’s final shot / twist is also just such a genius subversion of the typical horror movie “plot-armor” ending. Not to mention that infamous Greta Gerwig scene…
“The House of the Devil” is now available to stream on Peacock.