The House of the Devil (2009)

Who’d have thought I’d end up with another satanic cult movie?

2009’s The House of the Devil has some great poster art. It concerns a penniless college student (aren’t they all?) looking for money and finding it from a babysitting job for an eccentric family. Madness eventually ensues.

This film has the feel of something thrown together over a couple weekends by some ambitious filmmakers. Their hearts are in the right places and there’s no lack of technical skill. The cinematography is terrific and the effects are good. The writing doesn’t ask much from its actors and they deliver no more, no less. The movie is trying to channel an 80s slasher vibe, going so far as to set the action itself in the 80s. To that purpose, the hair, makeup and props are spot-on.

 If only the plot were more original and believable. A promising start eventually narrows down to “been there, done that.” There’s a slight The Burbs feel without the humor. I can’t say too much up here without giving it away, so let’s just say a lot of things don’t add up.

The film has two major problems. The first is pacing. In the first half hour, we learn that Samantha needs money for a deposit on an apartment she’s planning to lease; she has a quirky friend; and the folks who need babysitting aren’t returning her calls.

Halloween begins with a POV of Michael Meyers’ childhood killing spree. Black Christmas has an unknown stalker breaking into a house. Nightmare on Elm Street opens with shots of a man making a glove of knives. Friday the 13th begins with a flashback to a murder 22 years ago.

The House of the Devil begins with Samantha negotiating lease terms on her apartment.

It’s an incredibly slow start without even a hint of the excitement that may be ahead of us. After she finally arrives at the house, the film repeatedly builds tension that leads nowhere. There’s finally an event (far from the house) and then a lot more stalking around the empty house. Then it’s – incredibly – broken up by a musical montage of her playing pool. Even with a couple intriguing reveals, I was constantly looking at the clock, waiting for something to happen about 70 minutes into the 95 minute running time.

The second problem is plot holes. Aside from the typical “she went upstairs when she should’ve gone outside” and “why does she do so much exploring” tropes, we once again have the “incredibly small evil cult dilemma. Is this the best the devil can get? I’ll point out the rest in the spoiler section. But the net result is a film that feels too straight-to-video and amateurish when it held much more promise.

I just read through the numerous accolades posted on the official website. I’ve tried my best to reconsider, but I just can’t revise my assessment.

Now that you’ve seen the film…

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Samantha seems to lack long-term planning skills. If she doesn’t have the money for her first month’s rent, how is she expecting to rent the apartment for the rest of the year? There’s no indication of a job that she could call for extra hours, and instead of looking for one she’s moping around and taking a short-term babysitting job.

There’s no urgency here either. She has a dorm room. She’s not out on the street. Sure, she doesn’t seem to have the best of roommates, but there’s no indication that they fight or don’t get along. There are ways to resolve these issues, but if Samantha has already pursued them the movie gives us no clue that she’s exhausted her possibilities. Without KNOWING that she absolutely needs that $300, it’s hard to believe she’s willing to put herself in a potentially dangerous situation to get it.

Speaking of which, what’s stopping her friend Megan from sticking around to keep her company? She’s clearly concerned. Samantha might not be willing to split the money, but Megan hardly appears to have anything else going on that night, or any other friends for that matter. She wolfs down pizza with enough abandon that the prospect of more of it probably could’ve convinced her to stick around.

Once again, it appears we only have four people in the entire world who are tasked with birthing the Dark Lord Satan into this world during the rarest of lunar eclipses. And their plan is to advertise for a babysitter at a local college and hope somebody calls.  You’d think, with all this time to plan, they wouldn’t be so desperate for a victim.

But why create such a creepy situation in the first place? Couldn’t they just have a baby there so it appears to be a normal babysitting job? Or why not just snatch her off the porch as soon as you open the door? Why didn’t they show up when they agreed to meet her earlier? We have a guy who’s willing to shoot a girl point-blank in her car, so I presume just a straight kidnapping wouldn’t be off the table either. I think it’d be best to grab a random person off the street instead of telling the prospect where you live, and giving her an opportunity to tell friends and family where she’s going that night. Not that I would know, of course.

Also, if the goal is to get her pregnant ala Rosemary’s Baby, couldn’t they just find a willing volunteer among their fellow cult members? Or does this pregnancy involve chest bursting or something? Again, no real explanation.

Mr. Ulman implies that this particular town has the best view of the eclipse, but the ceremony itself (as far as I can tell) takes place in the basement, away from the light of the moon. Why did visibility matter? Why not have your ceremony outside if the view of the moon is so important?

What’s taking them so long to get her tied down to that floor? Why give her the chance to explore the house unsupervised and find damning things? And why the hell don’t they ever cut the phone line so she can’t call 911?

Few of these holes would take more than a small modification or a couple lines  of explanation to fill in.

Finally, our ending is a classic case of a tale ending where it should have begun. At the end of the day, who cares about what she went through in that house? The real horror was over in an 8 minute sequence that could’ve been the prelude to a far more interesting film about what happens now that she’s pregnant with satan’s spawn and most of the cult members are dead.

I hate to pick apart a horror movie like this. I’m willing to accept the standard tropes and my personal viewing requirements are really not that high. But when the plot unravels itself so quickly after a mere tug at the threads of reality, there’s nothing left to hold tension or interest for the viewer.  That was certainly my experience.

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