Who’s In It: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, Dee Wallace
The Basics: It’s the 1980s. Pretty ‘n’ preppy co-ed Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) is desperate for cash so she can move away from her skuzzy, punk music-loving dorm mate. She answers an ad for a babysitter that seems too perfect, but waves off her BFF’s (Greta Gerwig) warnings and takes the job anyway. Shortly after nice old Tom Noonan and Principal Togar from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School leave her alone in their big, scary mansion in the middle of nowhere, Samantha starts to suspect that maybe her sweet gig really is too good to be true. Duh duh duhhhhn!
What’s The Deal: In this era of torture porn and slasher pics, House of the Devil is a shining example of how to build atmosphere and tension the old-fashioned way. Sure, the “girl in a house” story is a simple one, but it’s a slow burner that pays off big time and makes you wonder why every Saw or Hostel movie has to resort to graphic violence and gore when mere suspense will do.
Ti West Has A Time Machine In His Basement: Director Ti West achieves a feat that has eluded every wannabe hipster kid of the TRL generation: he brings back the ‘80s with the fierceness. House of the Devil is so understated and authentic, you could pass it off as a lost horror film from the early Reagan years. Credit excellent subdued cinematography, subtle camera work, and the sweet ‘80s dance moves Jocelin Donahue (who, incidentally, is the missing link between Karen Allen and Margot Kidder) busts out while rockin’ The Fixx’s “One Thing Leads To Another” on her Walkman.
The Art Of The Slow Simmer: Some folks don’t appreciate the patience it takes to cultivate a loooooong set-up to a big bang. But every waking second spent watching Samantha inch closer to certain doom builds more and more delicious tension just wondering what the hell is going to happen to her and how it’s all going go down.
Extra Points For: An against-type appearance by “mumblecore” starlet Greta Gerwig, who’s almost unrecognizable here with her hair in a Farrah flip -- at least until she and Donahue have a 10-minute conversation around at a table at a pizza joint. Then, that familiar brand of hipster ennui comes back in full force and you’ll pray she bites it somehow.