Ti West, the director of the recent thriller "The House of the Devil," has apparently done the impossible: he has made a horror movie that has been greeted with favorable reviews by the preponderance of respected film critics. The feat is praiseworthy, considering the horror genre has been routinely denigrated.
"The House of the Devil" is a throwback of sorts to the untroubled days of the horror genre (the ‘70s and early ‘80s). The opening title sequence, with its instrumental of The Cars’ "Moving in Stereo," and the overall presentation evokes this time period flawlessly. The hairstyles and attire of the cast are perfect. The beauty of this type of self-conscious homage is that it’s autonomous, and a knowledge of old-school slasher films isn’t necessary to really enjoy it. But it couldn’t hurt.
What really shines in this film is that it’s defiantly anti-contemporary. The "new wave" of horror movies are comprised of nothing more than a series of climaxes, thereby extinguishing any real fire that could ensue from carefully building suspense and systematically and judiciously releasing it at appropriate times.
While the "Saw" movies will parade characters in front of the screen, with no real reason to care about them before they die in gruesome ways, "The House of the Devil" rectifies this corrupted new trend and points it in a more satisfying direction. It’s a slow burn that takes its time, and is more leisurely paced than most "horror" fans are used to today, but the result is a climax that truly pays off in spades.
As a film dealing with a college student, desperate for cash, taking a job to house-sit for a strange satanic family, it might turn some viewers off. "The House of the Devil," while not entirely perfect, and occasionally stale in points, emerges triumphant with a flair for the bygone slasher days of early John Carpenter, and the unnerving psychological horror of Roman Polanski.
If you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best, and that’s precisely why West’s film works as well as it does.