Authenticity can be difficult to achieve. Moreover, it is a troublesome endeavor creating a piece of art which belongs to another period entirely. There are so many factors a filmmaker needs to consider when paying true homage to an epoch well passed. It’s not sufficient just to mimic wardrobes, if attempting to credibly sell to your addressees that your work could have been crafted over thirty years ago, everything needs to be spot-on otherwise the cracks begin to show.
What Ti West accomplished with The House of The Devil is nothing short of flabbergasting. From the opening frame right through to the closing credits this bleeds absolute authenticity. We’re talking everything from the feathered hair and Sony Walkmans to the garish yellow title screen and stilted dialogue. It’s all here and at no juncture do you feel as if you’re watching a film from 2009. It isn’t an original concept and pays reverence as opposed to breaking fresh ground. There are parallels between West’s feature and fine art like Suspiria. It also harks back to the ‘babysitter alone in a strange house’ template popular around the turn of the eighties.
With no real body count to speak of, The House of the Devil instead hones in on the developing sense of trepidation as events begin to escalate rapidly into pure terror with the tension being cranked up to agonizing levels as we determine the house’s dirty little secret. By the time the reveal is upon us, we’re beside ourselves and have been put through the ringer just as much as our female protagonist. Speaking of mental anguish, there is a standout moment which you do not see coming. An instance of extreme unpleasantness which, given the restrained approach taken elsewhere through its duration, hits you like an iron fist in the kidneys. Very rarely does a scene jolt me so rigorously, and I live for that shit!
Mention must also be made of the inhabitants of the house in question, who make The Munsters seem more like The Waltons. You know there’s something fucked up afoot but, like our heroine, you have no inkling as to how fucked up! As mentioned before there’s a definite Suspiria-like feel to proceedings, minus Argento’s vibrant palette of course, and the dread hangs in the air like a dense toxic mist. I regularly cite my preference for viewing horror in complete solitude and this is an example of why this process is so effective. You are made to feel so utterly alone and vulnerable, to the nth degree, and to think that a relatively fresh-faced independent filmmaker managed to pull off such a magnificent achievement on meager funding and on the back of such indifference being shown toward his gore-sopping sequel to Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever makes this all the more remarkable.
West proved that it was no fluke by following this with critically lauded The Innkeepers before shocking the Keeper by providing one of the more ho-hum offerings from The ABCs of Death with M is for Miscarriage. Nevertheless, any new project undertaken by this man would now be fervently awaited by Keeper and the future appears very promising indeed for Ti West.
Finally the score; I went out on a limb when awarding this the coveted ten but I uphold that decision. It may not be groundbreaking in terms of originality but its execution is flawless and it’s authenticity staggering, so for that reason I’m sticking resolutely to my guns. Truly a spectacle to cherish and revere, there is no deadlier delight than The House of the Devil.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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