The House of the Devil: ‘80s nostalgia done right
The movie that any horror fan would like to make, Ti West’s The House of the Devil is a clever throwback to the films from the ‘70s and ‘80s, and a deftly piece of contemporary horror at the same time.
‘00s horror is far from being the best. This is a known fact to every fan of the genre. Guilty pleasures aside, the early ‘00s were a decade that was mostly invaded by poorly executed remakes and forgettable ghost flicks. However, there are a few exceptions that have flown under the radar and are worth pointing out. Ti West’s The House of the Devil is, without a doubt, one of them. Released in 2009, the film stars Jocelin Donahue (Insidious Part 2, Doctor Sleep) as Samantha Hughes, a college student who takes on a one-time babysitting job at a mansion in the woods, where she soon finds out the job is not at all what she signed up for. The film takes place in the ‘80s and, as anyone can tell, the premise is anything but innovative. Quite the contrary, it is a classic babysitter story that recalls some of the most iconic films in the slasher subgenre. But where the film’s originality lies is in its ability to create an homage to ‘80s horror, not only in regard to the plot, but also through its visual and narrative style.
The House of the Devil is, in one sentence, ‘80s nostalgia done right. Its visuals have the power to transport the viewer to a past era, and they do so in such a brilliant and effective way that, for someone who goes into the movie without knowing anything about it, it would be a surprise to know that it is not a film from the 1980s. The movie has a retro style that goes beyond the more recent wave of nostalgia fashion that permeates pop culture nowadays: one that was successfully catapulted by Stranger Things, but that has now fallen into a pit of overplayed tropes and repetitive premises over and over again.
In The House of the Devil, Ti West does an amazing job as writer, director, and editor, showing everyone that he is a true connoisseur of the genre’s best traditions. Everything in the film’s production design is very well-throughout and executed. And I give special props to the work of cinematography and the soundtrack, both of which play a crucial role in situating the viewer in a specific time and place in horror history -in addition to a moment in actual history, with the widespread phenomenon of “Satanic Panic” and the fear of cults in the 1980s-. But what stands out above all is West’s skillful direction. One that reflects on stylistic decisions made to resemble the era he intends to praise: Shooting in 16mm, the frequent use of zoom ins, and the opening credits are but three examples of the level of commitment and coherence behind West’s aesthetic decisions.
Moreover, the genius of the film’s tribute to a long-gone form of filmmaking not only reflects on its formal aspects, but also on how the story itself is told. Unlike the growing trend in horror to rely mostly on jump scares and fast-paced storytelling, The House of the Devil turns its back on the need to keep the viewer entertained at all times -with the expense of everything else- and pays more attention to creating a truly haunting story, resorting to slow-building tension and atmosphere over a succession of cheap meaningless scares throughout the film.
The House of the Devil could easily be today’s Scream: it is a film that every horror fan should see, and the one that any horror fan would have loved to make. And the crime of it all is that it is still, to this day, an extremely underrated movie that, outside the horror community, isn’t that well-known by many. Ti West’s film is an amazing piece of contemporary horror, and it is, at the same time, a perfectly done tribute to the genre’s finest times. And in case all of this isn’t reason enough to go see it at this very second, it is still worth it to see the amazing Greta Gerwig on her pre-Oscar fame days.