A Brief Review of The House of the Devil (2009)

The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil (2009) received rave reviews (for a horror film) from critics when it was released, but reactions from horror audiences have been mixed as the years have passed. Some absolutely love it; others claim it is one of the worst films they've seen. There doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground. I saw the film several years ago, didn't think much of it, but decided to give it another look.

The first thing to understand about The House of the Devil is that it was carefully designed to be a throwback horror flick that would have been right at home in the early 1980s. In that regard, it is wildly successful. They did such a good job with set pieces, hair styles, clothing, music, and everything else that it really does feel like one is watching a movie from the early 80s. For those of us who were fans of horror films in the early 80s, the nostalgia is one reason to see it. It was apparent that the director was a fan of these films and was subtly but effectively paying tribute to them here. This was easily the best thing about the film.

I think the main reason The House of the Devil receives such negative reviews from many horror fans can be summed up in one word: pacing. As much of a fan as I am of slow burn horror that effectively builds a sense of dread throughout the film before giving audiences the payoff at the end, this one was far too slow, had little burn to offer, and provided a surprisingly weak ending. All the elements were there for it to have been something great, but the pace was simply not effective. Instead of building a sense of dread, it built a sense of boredom and frustration. This was the same reaction I had to it when I watched it the first time. It felt like I waited patiently for well over an hour for something to happen, and it never really did.

If there is one film that The House of the Devil has been compared to it is Rosemary's Baby. I understand the comparisons, as will anyone who has seen both films. But while Rosemary's Baby was a masterclass in how to do slow burn horror effectively, this one didn't come close. Although I agree with those panning the film that the ending was a letdown, I don't think it could have been saved even by a fantastic ending. The pacing simply didn't work. By the time I got to the end, I just wanted it to be over.

The best analogy I can provide would be to suggest that you imagine yourself watching what you thought might be a haunted house film for 95 minutes. There are a few mildly creepy scenes that keep you watching because you like haunted house films and assume things will get more interesting because that's what happens in every good one you've ever seen. They don't get any better, and it turns out that the house wasn't really haunted after all. You've just spent 95 minutes waiting for something that mostly never happens aside from an odd ending that seemed rushed. I am exaggerating a little with this analogy but only a little.

Fans of 80s horror who like films with mild Satanic imagery enough that they'll put up with an extremely slow and disjoined pace and an ending that doesn't come close to delivering might like this one. I found it to be a big disappointment that did not improve on the second viewing. In fact, I think it was worse the second time around simply because I knew that the ending was not going to be worth waiting for. They can't all be winners, and I do give the director credit for trying something different.

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