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The House of the Devil

Ti West's new film The House of the Devil begs the question: Does the perfect execution of a proven genre style necessarily make a good movie? This pitch-perfect rendition of a late-70's / early-80's horror film seems like something John Carpenter beamed forward in time just after he made Halloween. While the movie is strong and seems to achieve exactly what it sets out to do, it's flaw may be that it lacks the individual touches that would make the movie memorable.

In The House of the Devil, Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha Huges, a cute college student who desperately wants to move into her own apartment. In an attempt to make some quick cash, she takes a babysitting job for a strange couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) out in the country and ends up in a far creeper situation than she could have imagined.

It turns out that there is no "baby", and she's been hired to watch the elderly mother of one of the houses' inhabitants. It seems like she can make an easy $400 by just sitting around, but the creaks, phantom footsteps, and insinuated threat of terror behind every closed door make her night far from relaxing.

The movie is a perfect recreation of the late-70's / early-80's slow burn horror movie; complete down to the title credits, feathered hairstyles and a "Gravity's Rainbow"-sized walkman. Much like those movies, this film is all about atmosphere. Literally. There's only about 30 minutes worth of plot to speak of in the whole movie.

However, with the total amount of carnage and actual on-screen terror you see in relation to simple heightened tension, you could well call it the "anti-Saw." As opposed to the quick flash of over-the-top gore that's been prevalent in "torture porn" horror lately, this movie depends on the long, slow, tension-filled buildup for the eventual payoff. It's much like being locked in a creepy house for an hour where every errant creak could just be the old lady upstairs, or could be something far more terrifying.

The suspense can wear on you after a while. You find yourself waiting for something, anything, to happen. Let her find a pentagram, or an errant drop of blood to arouse suspicion, or Satan getting a glass of milk out of the fridge. Just something to break the tension. When the payoff does come, it comes in spades, and the movie gets pretty extreme, pretty quickly. Overall the movies doesn't add anything new to the horror equation, but that's kind of the point.

House of the Devil
is film-school nerdery at its finest. Great pains have been taken to recreate the low-budget feeling of classic horror like Rosemary's Baby or Halloween. It does, however, put so much effort into fetishizing its source material that it occasionally comes close to feeling like it's getting in its own way. The borderline pretentiousness of the spot-on take on the genre sometimes makes the movie feel more like a film student's graduate thesis project than a feature film.

Before you sign up for this movie, ask yourself: How do you like your scares? If you're the kind of person who enjoys a scary movie for the story itself, your terror growing as the details of the tale are assembled piece by piece, this movie will not be for you. You will invariably be bored by the long stretches where nothing much happens but for the ever-lingering threat of a scare at any given moment.

If, however, you are a suspense and horror purist, you will be in heaven. West makes almost-perfect use of lighting, cinematography, sound and cast to stretch more tension and suspense than you thought possible out of surprisingly little.

The House of the Devil
is a well-made, fun, retro-throwback to a time when "horror" meant less protracted savagery. However, despite it's almost perfect execution it adds very little, if anything, new to the mix. If you are a fan of suspense almost exclusively for the sake of suspense, you're in for a treat. However, if you are the type who regularly finds yourself fast-forwarding through those long scenes of empty hallways in horror movies, you may find that you've sped through more than half of the movie and not even noticed.

Matt Sameck

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