Talk about a polarizing movie…
There seem to be two very loud schools of thought on Ti West’s 80’s throwback House Of The Devil, “OMG SOOO BORING LOLZ” and “This is Smart and Atmospheric and if you want Gore and stupid studio remakes, go watch Rob Zombie’s Hallobortion, you fucking noob”.
I guess, to be fair, if you are used to the high-speed, goretastic contemporary horror films, HOTD is gonna seem pretty boring- and I actually spent a good 30 minutes of it thinking: “Ok, so now is something gonna happen? No? Ok, howzabout now?”
Had I seen this with a good audience, in a theater, I would doubtless be deeply in love with the movie- but I watched it on a rainy afternoon on a loading dock. Is it “scary”? Not really.
Is it unsettling? From time to time.
Does it lovingly craft a mood and milk it for anticipation and build up to a logical, predictable, but absolutely right-for-the-material finale? You betcha.
So really, Ti West has made a movie that makes me incredibly excited to see what he does next. Seriously, this guy is a writer/director whose stuff I want to see A LOT more of.
Visually, it’s perfect: the cinematography, set design, costuming, hair… it captures an era and a style and does so vividly- The movie is set in the early 80s- but why?
Partially, I think, to capitalize on the long memories some of us have of the weird moral panic that was going on, the anti D&D and Heavy Metal condemnations, and those weird trials in SoCal that claimed entire Day Care centers were staffed by Devil Worshiping Child Molesters (seriously, this actually happened, there was Satanic Panic).
But also, I think West is guilty of nostalgic love for the cheapie 80s horror flicks he grew up on. As far as crimes go, this ranks far lower on the “kick his ass” meter than not cleaning up after your dog.
The cast is perfect- Greta Gerwig can seemingly deliver ANY line and make it seem entirely spontaneous and natural and real. No wonder the mumblecore directors all love her. Dee Wallace shows up in a nice cameo. AJ Bowen is solid, as is lead Jocelin Donahue- and it is a tricky roll, since she mostly doesn’t do much until the finale. We watch Donahue’s Samantha wander around a strange house eating pizza, listening to 80s pop, and being a college-aged kid for a good chunk of the movie- but once it gets going, it gets going.
Now, some detractors cry “too-little-too-late” and, “if yer gonna have weird shit happen, it needs to be WEIRD”. Both camps aren’t wrong, but I don’t think West was trying to knock the audiences socks off with the last ten minutes- he wanted the build to be what we remembered, the slow, exquisite build.
Oh, and the REAL stars of the movie: the great Tom Noonan, and the awesome Mary Woronov- oh my, West lets them shine. Nobody can make earnest and awkward more threatening than Noonan- and Woronov can be so nice that you are deeply uncomfortable. I don’t mean the “Oh, have some cookies, dear” like if Bettie White was the bad guy.
Actually, the entire cast is very, very natural- maybe that is what West will do- dare I hope? Make natural, emotionally honest horror movies? Jesus… what a beautiful, scary thought that is.