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I heard a lot about the atmosphere of The House of the Devil going into viewing it, how it captures the feel of a 1980s horror film. And it does do so quite well. After seeing it, though, I’m unsure of loftiness of this goal.

College student Samantha, sick of her dorm roommate locking her out while she has sex with whoever, takes a new off campus apartment that she cannot really afford. She calls for a babysitting job to a mysterious man (the underappreciated Tom Noonan, Frankenstein of Monster Squad among others) who stands her up. He eventually does convince her to journey out to his country estate under a somewhat false premise. All of this takes a good 45 minutes before any of the action kicks in, and when it finally does it’s one brutal, sudden and shocking moment. The build up to this is very good, creepy and subtle.

Once Samantha is in the house, the third act goes a little awry. It begins with a lot of padding, such as Samantha dancing around the house to The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads to Another,” which mostly serves to remind that this is set in the 80s, with her giant Walkman and padded headphones. She finds some clues as to what’s happening but it all feels pretty clumsy. She walks the house for a long time before the climax begins, and it kicks into overdrive immediately. Samantha inexplicably goes from weak girl to ass kicking machine in a span of seconds, even less believably than was the standard for 1980s action. The final reveal, while somewhat cliché, works well for the story.

The acting is fair to very good in House. Tom Noonan has easily the best character and performance of the film. Mary Woronov is sadly limited in her appearance. Jocelin Donahue holds her own as Samantha, believably portraying a college student plowing ahead with what appears to be a bad idea all around.

I agree that the atmosphere of the 1980s Satanic-cult-behind-every-door mentality was captured perfectly by director Ti West. He nails the little touches, like chunky remote controls and big-haired newscasters. What I’m not sure of is why he’s done this. The story is all rehash. Nothing new is ever touched upon. There’s a plot revolving around a lunar eclipse that only sort of comes into play, and an inexplicably introduced character at the very end that’s never talked about. The climax is rushed and just gotten out of the way, it seems. In the end, House is a very well made but utterly unnecessary revisit to a dear era of horror films. 3 ½ stars

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