31 October 2009

At the movies: The House of The Devil.

When college sophomore Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, working a distinctively Lynn Lowry-ish vibe) decides to flee her messy dorm room and inconsiderately promiscuous roomate, she finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place. A great apartment is within reach, with a nurturing landlady (horror icon Dee Wallace) and space for studying and living and establishing herself as an independent woman.

But a looming $300 deposit makes things almost insurmountable for Samantha- until she answers an ad for a babysitter for Mr. & Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov). They're wealthy ($400 for just a few hours), they're weird (apparently able to derive phone numbers without being told), and they're just delighted to have Samantha to their isolated, ornate manse so they can make the big astronomic event- a complete lunar eclipse.

As the film is called The House of the Devil, you would be right to assume that something nefarious is involved. Something diabolical, even. But be sure, this is not an evil house; it is a house to which evil has come. The meticulous joys of this film aren't in its pagan rituals, bloodenings, or SRAS-style underlying fears. The House of The Devil is a film that feels of the 80s, but never explicitly says so.

Donahue's Samantha is a truly great character and a great performance, suitable to stand amongst Heather Langenkamp, Kimberly Beck, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Ashley Laurence as great 80s horror heroines. She's pragmatic, but also has a problem with being impetuous, proving relatable for just about anyone. She even turns on the faucets in bathrooms so no one can hear her cry.

You can jettison your irony at the door to this House, as its slow-steeping spell works best in that part of the brain that understands the dangers inherent in every locked door, in every lie told through a smile.

Indie goddess Greta Gerwig, as Samantha's best friend Megan, is just marvelous- a rich girl with Farrah hair and an appetite for tasty morsels. A marvelous character, she, and like the rest of the stellar supporting cast, helping ground the more concrete aspects of the film in an indeterminate-early 80s milieu that's never jokey or obvious. It's a place out of sync with space and time, this movie, and it wears its deliberate pacing and cautionary heart with both affection and trepidation.

Currently, The House of The Devil is playing theatrically in selected markets throughout the country, though it is available nationwide through Magnet/Magnolia Pictures' VOD program. If you're in Nashville, though, it's coming to the Belcourt Theatre from November 9th through 13th, and it's $1.50 cheaper than VODing it in your own home. Get your 35mm experience on; you'll be glad you did.

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