Returning once again to Ti West’s The House of the Devil, I am determined to find a reset here. Yesterday, I used the first fifteen minutes as a flimsy pretense to argue that we need a rent freeze. Which we do, nothing has changed between yesterday and today. Please sign this petition if you haven’t already done so.
My dilemma is this: I desperately need a detox from everything. From the news, from the feelings that my friends are going be homeless and sick, from the impending dread. I just really need to sleep for, like, a month.
Thus, starting today and until at least Monday morning, this column will exclusively focus on the films I choose to watch. I am not going to talk about how I am feeling, because how I am feeling is probably going to be the same oscillation between “a little better” and “not good chief.” There is a therapeutic element to this, but it’s being swallowed by my inability to focus on anything except a nihilistic dread. The therapy must now become an escape, for a least a little while.
I am sad that Ti West will probably never make another film, if only because I enjoy watching Ti West so ardently wish to succeed, and somehow fail to do so each and every time. I swear to God, the amount of times that this man has failed to implement a satisfying conclusion to his slow-burn is unfathomable in consideration of the fact that he still ardently commits to each and every slow-burn.
West has probably seen every cheap 80s horror film at least a dozen times. He is, to me, a fascinating filmmaker because few filmmakers seem to have such a profound ability to mimic aesthetic traits, but simultaneously lack the ability to weaponize said ability. A podcast that I listen used to have routine arguments about Ti West and Rob Zombie; these arguments are ironic in the sense that these two filmmakers are probably closer to the same end of the spectrum than they would seem. Both are inclined towards pastiche that lacks purpose.
In House of the Devil, Joceline Donahue plays Samantha Hughes, a college student in desperate need of some cash to pay for her own place. She accepts a job to be a “babysitter,” for an absorbent sum of money despite the fact that she’s creeped out by the space that she must inhabit to complete the job, and the fact that said job is not actually babysitting, but rather, seems to be akin to simply sitting in the house while the elder matriarch sleeps.
West’s greatest strength has always been his ability to craft compelling characters. Sara Paxton’s Claire in The Innkeepers is a fascinating portrait of extended and disaffected right down the very detail of her sneakers. Here, Samantha and her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) are so typically college students it’s endearing. They do things like go to a terrible pizza place, eat very little of the pizza, and leave. The need for cash must be considered alongside potential dangers. Gerwig bops her head to a Greg Kihn Band song in the car, a scene that I definitely rewatched before writing this, and a scene that I definitely want to have in a GIF from. These two are total freaking dorks.
I’ll say this about Ti West: he commits to the bit. Few American directors would dare to have an entire act of their film structure around the ordering of a pizza, and the subsequent thirty minutes between ordering and delivery. It’s the kind of tactic my friend Patrick Ripoll (the anti-West host of the aforementioned podcast) refers to as a “Fassbinder level of crazy.” The reason for this pizza’s importance to the story? It’s laced with drugs. So much of this film revolves around ‘za, that the title should actually be Hut of the Devil.
And despite this, I kind of enjoyed it. West is very good at crafting jump scares. In particular, someone sneaking up on Gerwig inside of her car gave me a miniature heart attack. When it comes time for the payoff, he gets lost in blood spurting from orifices, and general satanic imagery. This is about as satanic at the actual satanic panic was; read, not at all. But I dare say that it was good fun, and that I wish those girls were my friends.