House Of The Devil (2009)

Ti Wests "House Of The Devil" is the perfect recipe for anyone who grew up watching late 70s early 80's horror films. It's also the perfect film for those sick of the so called (and poorly named) "torture porn" sub genre of horror. West is able to create a slow paced atmospheric, sometimes maddening effort that pays off, big time, in the third act.

Jocelin Donahue plays Samantha a poor college student desperate move out of her dorm room, away from her messy, slutty roommate. She accepts an apartment from land lady Dee Wallace (of Cujo fame), with the understanding she needs 300 bucks by Monday. It's Wednesday and she currently has 88 dollars. Hence her dilemma. Luckily she spots a babysitting flyer posted outside her door. After some curious delays, she finally agrees to the job despite the protests of her friend Megan (in a show stealing performance by Greta Gerwig...more on that later).

Later that evening Megan drives Sam out to the middle of no where (never a good sign) to meet the "parents" of her new charge. Ignoring the creepy vibe, Sam follows Mr. Ulman in the kitchen who proceeds to tell her that it his not his child she will be watching but his mother -in-law. Sam is at first hesitant, but agrees after some monetary haggling. Sam convinces Megan all is well, so Megan leaves. Sam has a creepy interaction with Mrs. Ulman, but she and her husband soon leave as well.

What follows is about 45 minutes of slow build up that teases terror at every possible moment until the tension becomes almost maddening. What West is able to do here is exude a patience that is seldom seen in today's "blow something up now" cinema. His slow build is to be commended, although it will not be loved by all movie goers. It truly is a film you must lose yourself in.

The tension wanes as Sam becomes more comfortable in the house, she begins exploring, watching T.V. and even takes some time to order a pizza. She begins to frolic around the house until she breaks a vase - and it sets Sam back on edge. Now she notices every noise. She thinks back to things that were said to her by the Ulmans before they left. Something just doesn't add up. Now she begins exploring with a different purpose - to unlock the mysteries. Unfortunately, as the third act shows us, she will not like what she is about to find.

The film is set in 1983 and West does a great job of enveloping the audience in the feel of the era. Every thing from the rotary dial phone, to the Walkman with the orange head phones that was the size of the brick, gave the film a sense of authenticity that many indie films strive for but ultimately miss the boat on.

The direction is steady and subtle, as is Wests screenplay. Donahue channels her inner Olivia Hussey in conveying her innocence and quiet confidence. Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman is, as always great. West was able to talk horror legend Mary Woronov out of retirement to play the equally riveting and creepy Mrs. Ulman. The movies real star however is Greta Gerwig, she is likable and charming as Sams best friend in an unfortunately too small role. Gerwig went on the be as equally charming as Russell Brands would be girlfriend in the 2011 re-make of Arthur.

Until the third act hits, the film is and exercise in patience. West does a very good job of executing the payoff, but again this technique might alienate some viewers. For those that love a slow burner, this is the film for you. If your favorite movies include any of the Transformers movies or the Fast and the Furious films, you might want to skip this.

**** out of 5
highly recommended

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