review for The House of the Devil on AllMovie

The House of the Devil (2009)
by Josh Ralske review

The House of the Devil is a wonderfully witty and creepy throwback horror movie. Writer-director-editor Ti West sets just the right tone, with the movie's fashions, soundtrack, and freeze-frame-and-zoom-laden style generating an amusing frisson of recognition. West pays homage to the horror classics of the 1970s and '80s, casting a couple of cult icons (Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan) as oddball antagonists, while taking his slow burn of a story and his heroine's plight with commendable seriousness. Greta Gerwig demonstrates range in a funny feathered-hair performance. Relative newcomer Jocelin Donahue is given a heavy burden in the movie, because if we didn't identify with and care about Samantha, it could have been a chore to sit through. She comes through with a deceptively nuanced and engaging performance. The tension is on a low boil for much of the movie. One hears complaints in certain quarters about the pace of Ti West's film, and there's no doubt that as real scares go, there's a lot more running time devoted to the setup than to the payoff. But that's West's style, and it works here. He takes a very deliberate approach. As in horror classics like Rosemary's Baby and Last House on the Left, the filmmaker allows us to spend some time with these characters. He builds up a bit of mystery before showing us their unpleasant fate. This, along with West's obvious visual finesse, makes the film a much richer experience than most contemporary horror films. If you don't get a kick out of watching doomed babysitter Samantha put on that portable cassette player and dance around that creepy house to the strains of the Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another," you might need a course in Horror Appreciation 101.