Tagged The House of the Devil

Ti West’s The House of the Devil: A Slow Burn Satanic Panic Period Piece

The House of the Devil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, and Graham Reznick. MPI Media Group/Constructovision/RingtheJing Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix. Rated R. 95 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
house_of_the_devil_ver2Ti West is one of the modern horror directors I think you could say is an auteur in his own right. All of his films have a similar feel, maybe all aside from The Sacrament, as in they’re all done on film (again aside from the aforementioned last of his films to come out), they have the full, rich look of movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Not only that, West is great at drawing out the tension of a film to create atmosphere and to setup excellent uses of suspense.
The House of the Devil is no exception. I’d actually seen this before any of his other work before, and loved it so much I went back to see anything else he’d done I could get my hands on. The Roost is a highly underrated indie horror gem, even Trigger Man – an early attempt at shooting digitally – has its merits. Since then he’s done The Sacrament, of which I’m a big fan, and another fun little spooky flick called The Innkeepers. Loves titles starting with The!
With this movie, West throws back to the ’70s/’80s Golden Age of Horror, not deliberately making a period piece but still harkening directly back to that time by use of similar techniques, camerawork, music, and aesthetic filmmakers were in the habit of using. Essentially, The House of the Devil ends up as West’s scary love letter to movies he grew up, the vibe of filmmaking happening at the time which influenced him, as well as he gives us a slow burn horror rooted in the false Satanic Panic especially prevalent during the 1980s. If you don’t like a slower paced film, this won’t be for you at all. If you don’t mind letting a horror build, letting it grow on you, then give it a shot; you will not regret it.
the_house_of_the_devil_18Trying to get out on her own, away from terrible roommate living, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) ends up taking a mysterious job babysitting for Mr/Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov). Mysterious due to the fact the Ulmans don’t have a child. The job is, in reality, for Mrs. Ulman’s mother who lives with them. After some negotiating, Samantha gets a massive payday all for a single night. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) tags along to make sure everything is fine, and though not entirely satisfied she leaves Samantha at the house, almost literally in the middle of nowhere with the Ulmans.
And once they leave, Samantha slowly begins to feel as if something isn’t quite right in the big old house. Not to mention a young man named Victor (AJ Bowen) blasts Megan’s face off just a little ways down the road.
Nobody ever told Samantha babysitting would could be so hard.
houseofthedevil_still2_cmykThere are lots of things to admire about The House of the Devil. While big films often try to go for period looks – such as how Martin Scorsese for instance did the different portions of his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator according to how films looked at various instances throughout the 20th century – it is’t often an independent movie, horror at that, will try and emulate the particular look of certain decades. West not only shot this on film, but 16mm film, which gives it a great look that was very popular in the 1980s. Other ways West achieves his retro feel is through the zooms, nowadays a technique you’ll mostly see done through use of a dolly shot. Even right at the beginning with the freeze frame on Samantha, music playing, movie title in big block letters; totally ’80s style, through and through. Down to the fact this was the only movie since A History of Violence in 2005 which got released on VHS in one of the clamshell style cases, this is a unique and fun indie horror. So there’s a quaint charm about West’s film I feel gets lost on a lot of people who don’t care about any of that. Should you care? Well, that’s totally subjective. Me, I think there’s a certain artistry involved with all the care that goes into making a movie into more than just a movie, but instead making it become an experience. The House of the Devil, for me, has always been a solid horror while also very much being a horrifying experience all around because of its style.
tumblr_le86wpjc6p1qcc83zo1_1280When Samantha puts her ear close to the door, asking if “everything’s all right in there”, the slow and brief reveal West gives us of the Satanic-like markings, the bloodied corpses on the floor is shocking. It’s not shocking like the scene is going to make you gasp, or lose your breath and hide away. This shot and the scene is shocking in that you’re not expecting such blatant nastiness right behind the door. Even how slow West shows us what’s in the room is incredible, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the ‘mother’ in the dark, looking sinister in the corner, or anything close to that. Instead, it’s a pretty ballsy visual, such that West announces at this moment things are definitely going to start getting savage. At some point, anyways. Afterwards there are more moments of horror later like this, and also some key shots of very dreamy imagery in certain scenes. Generally, West strikes a nice balance between these two methods.
2394_5 158868544_9aea38When Samantha discovers the full extent of what’s happening in the house (think: drinking blood from a horned skull), the plot takes us into the depths of horror. Mixing subtle creepiness with plenty solid doses of nasty violence, the finale of the film plays out with pumping adrenaline in a sequence washed with blood. In particular, a few shots remind me of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, almost homage-like cuts to a hooded demonic character much like how Friedkin made several subliminal cuts to the Pazuzu demon in his film.
Most of all, I found the atmosphere of the film combined with the characters pretty damn eerie. Such as the Ulman family themselves. First there’s Tom Noonan whose creepiness knows no bounds, never once calling back to his stint as The Tooth Fairy a.k.a Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which is an unfair criticism of his acting I often see when he plays in horror movies; here, his character is all its own and he plays it quietly with great nuance. Then Mary Woronov does a spectacularly unsettling job with the character of Mrs. Ulman, even in the brief time she’s actually onscreen. Of course, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha is a perfect fit – she’s an ongoing yet at times quiet sort of person, but there’s a strength Donahue gives the character which is really great and adds something to the story. Throw in AJ Bowen and Greta Gerwig as interesting, smaller characters, and I’ve got to say West’s screenplay is a tight one with plenty of intrigue and none of the heavy, sagging exposition of other horror movies trying to spell every last thing out through dialogue.
hero_EB20091111REVIEWS911119997ARThis is a great film, 5 stars in my book. Ti West could’ve done a typical slasher with this, however, he opts to draw on his biggest influences from the ’70s/’80s and some of the real life yet fake claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse from decades ago, crafting a unique indie horror experience. Great and classic sensibilities show in the way West handles his directorial duties, as well as his writing. I can’t say anything else except for: watch it. Maybe you won’t dig it. But those who are into a slow burn, atmospheric type of horror, it’s full of that and it’s only a little over an hour.
Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments below, as long as you can be civil and have a proper talk!

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 – Dark, Creepy, Moody

Insidious: Chapter 2. 2013. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Tom Fitzpatrick. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
INSD2_INTL_1SHT_TSR

Being a fan of the first film, I was excited to see what James Wan and Leigh Whannell had in store for us. I really think they make a good team. Maybe not a perfect team, but it’d be hard for me to say that there ever was a perfect writer-director team. Every combination, every artist as individual has their faults.
Regardless, Wan and Whannell obviously have very similar sensibilities. I find they know what horror is, or should be, and though there are flaws this series has a lot of the great classic style horror I grew so fond of as a teenager.

What made the first Insidious so interesting for me was that Wan created this incredible atmosphere throughout, which kept on from beginning to end. There were a couple too many jump-scare moments, but not so much it ruined the film.
Personally, I think that Insidious: Chapter 2 capitalizes on its faults from the first and turns those into something even better. From atmosphere, to performances (Patrick Wilson is fantastic here), to a bit better of a script from Whannell, I believe this sequel was able to step it up a notch not only in creepiness, in quality, as well.
INSIDIOUS-HEADLINEBeginning directly after the events of the first, Insidious: Chapter 2 starts as Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is being questioned concerning the supernatural activity that supposedly happened in the house, which lead to the death of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). The police have to investigate, so Renai and her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) must take their kids to his mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) house.
Unfortunately, the ghostly presence continues to haunt Renai – a woman in white appears and terrorizes her. At the same time, Josh is acting strangely; Renai can’t look at him the same, their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) hears his dad talking to someone while he appears to be alone. Even Lorraine starts to see the woman in white. Josh continues his weird behaviour, beginning to almost physically deteriorate.
Soon, Lorraine goes back to Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to try and figure out once and for all what can be done to help the Lamberts get away from the evil presence plaguing Josh. And what follows proves to be even more difficult than bringing Dalton back from The Further.
insidious-chapter-2-nightmarish-international-trailer-videoSo I’ll begin with the very few things I thought were lacking/did not work in the film.
That “Hunter Ninja Bear” moment is an instance of the dumb comedy between the two ghost hunting characters Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Sampson) that I thought hindered the first film. Luckily, this one went for much less of that comedy; there are still faint hints of it at times, but it’s less prevalent than in the first. This helps. However, it’s moments like these that make me roll my eyes. Some may find it funny, I find it tedious. Especially in a film that culls together such an pervading and perpetual atmosphere of dread/creepiness, I feel like this comedy is so far out of place that it’s not even sensible.
I get that some horror is infused with comedy, often very dark comedy, this is just not one of those movies, and I think Leigh Whannell basically jammed these bits in like puzzle pieces that don’t fit; it shows how awkward these scenes are when you look at the movie as a whole. In the moment they’re sort of laugh to yourself funny (for others – not me), but when you turn around you think, “Why were these bits of comedy stuck in here?” Just makes little sense to me. I guess that’s why I’m not a famous Hollywood writer/director.
insidious_chapter_2_rivers_of_grue-14I have long thought Patrick Wilson is a fantastically talented fella. He has that handsome leading man type thing going on, and at the same time he has this weird side to him. The two performances which woke me up to his rising talent: his role as creep photographer Jeff Kohlver opposite Ellen Page in Hard Candy, and the wonderfully pained/tender character Brad Adamson he portrayed in Little Children.
So I think, even more so than the first movie, Wilson does a phenomenal job here. To see him wither away in front of our eyes, in front of his family, is really unsettling at times. Especially once the dark force inside him starts to actual take him apart physically – a nasty, effective scene happens when Josh Lambert starts to pull teeth out of his own face, literally falling to pieces. Not only did the make-up work well in making him look caved/sunken in, Wilson did well at showing Josh fray around the edges; you could see his personality change as the Bride in Black took him over. Great, great stuff.
I thought Lindsay Seim was awesome as the young Elise. Naturally, they used Lin Shaye’s voice and dubbed it over, but Seim still had the feel of Elise in those brief flashback scenes. Excellent choice in casting.
Rose Byrne did a good job, but I also think Barbara Hershey deserves a shoutout. She is such a wonderful actress, with the small part of Josh’s mother she does get a bit of screen time. There were some nice moments with Hershey, as well as a few with her and Steve Coulter, who plays Elise’s old friend Carl.
Insidious Chapter 2 2013 (4)Again, as was the case with the first film, I love how James Wan builds the atmosphere. There’s a very distinct feeling throughout the entire movie. Also, when people are in The Further, all the dead wandering around in the dark, there’s this other highly distinct feeling. Wan makes us feel that shift between the two worlds, which in turn makes it all the more immersive.
I really enjoy how Whannell chose to explore the Bride in Black character more, then we are revealed the utterly disturbed world of Parker Crane. Worst is Parker’s Mother (Danielle Bisutti) – terrifying! When Specs and Tucker, gang in tow, head to Parker’s old house and they make all those macabre discoveries, I thought that section worked so well. The whole backstory to Parker and his mother is just amazingly ghastly. I loved every second of it!
In particular, there’s a great scene with the young Lorraine (played by Jocelin Donahue from Ti West’s throwback masterpiece The House of The Devil) where she brings her then young son Josh to the hospital where she works. There, Parker Crane (Tom Fitzpatrick) grabs ahold of Josh, howling at him in a terrible voice, frightening the poor boy. MAN! What a scene. I thought it was perfect. There’s a little jump-scare, yet I still found it truly effective. Because you keep reeling moments afterwards. Excellent, well-executed horror.
insidious-chapter-2-movie-wallpaper-19Sticking to the horror and subtracting some of the outright comedy between Specs and Tucker, I really think Leigh Whannell wrote a great script. Of course, James Wan pulled off the directing near perfectly. However, I still think that there should have been no comedy, whatsoever. Insidious is truly terrifying stuff, I honestly feel that comedy is out of place in a film that has such a pitch-black atmosphere and tone. Mainly it’s the style of comedy – very dumb stuff, I found. If maybe it worked on a darker level, the comedy would have went well with the horror. It doesn’t, though. That being said, I can’t knock the script that much. It fleshes out the characters Whannell introduced with Insidious, explains some of the previously unexplained events of the first film, and there’s the backstory of the Bride in Black, serial killer Parker Crane, which I found perfectly chilling.
This is a slight head above the first, so I’m giving it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s near a perfect horror, for me anyways. I’ve seen it now probably 5-6 times since it first came out. I’d not seen the first in theatre, because I’m not actually a fan of being in the theatre (a cinephile with high anxiety isn’t good at times – I force myself to go for the stuff I really want to see), but I did go see this on the big screen. Good times, I must say. Everything here works, almost to perfection, from atmosphere and tone, to performances, developed characters, and the sound design is much better than the first (not so many purposefully jumpy string additions).
If you’ve not seen it, go watch NOW, and I hope you get the shit frightened out of you.

The Sacrament: Found Footage in Jonestown

The Sacrament. 2014. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Kate Lyn Sheil, Gene Jones, and Kentucker Audley. Magnet Releasing. Rated R. 95 minutes. Horror/Thriller

★★★★★

Previously I discussed The Sacrament in my 15 Found Footage Films Worth Watching. Here, I’ll go much more in-depth on why I think this is a great film overall.

I only discovered Ti West once seeing his 2009 film The House of the Devil. I went back and secured a copy of his first feature film from 2005 called The Roost – a neat little movie with mutated killer bats and a few friends on a road trip headed to a wedding; I love every frame of this one. Included on the DVD I bought, luckily, there came his earlier short film from back in 2001, Prey. He later went on to do the fantastic modern ghost tale of The Innkeepers, and a couple of great segments in both V/H/S (the short called “Second Honeymoon” featuring Joe Swanberg – actually my favourite of the first film’s shorts), as well as the 2012 horror mega-anthology The ABCs of Death (a divisive short called “M is for Miscarriage”).

sacrament_ver3_xlgThen came The Sacrament – West’s retelling of the Jonestown Massacre )see: Jim Jones and the People’s Temple in Guyana). For those who don’t know, Jones was a supposed preacher who basically built up a cult of personality around himself using the faith, and money (and bodies/souls), of a congregation made up from lonely and lost, broken hearted people who wanted nothing more than to believe in something tailored to them. They all eventually fled to the Republic of Guyana on the coast of South America and, using the life savings of many members in the People’s Temple, built their own town – aptly named Jonestown. Jones convinced his congregation they were better off in Guyana. He also managed to convince many, not all however, the American government and certain agencies such as the CIA wanted to kill him, and in turn them – that people were, as the saying goes, “out to get them”, (as Father says in The Sacrament when a young member questions why their fate must be what it is: “(if not) they will come down here with their guns and bombs and wipe us out!”). Then one day, Jones finally went off the deep end, after having lived a double life for quite some time pretending to be the all-righteous preacher by day and then indulging his primal urges by night (including alcohol, drugs, and the homosexual practices he condemned – Jones claimed himself to be the “only true heterosexual male” and justified his sodomizing of other men in his church as his sole option in helping those men in realizing their own homosexuality). He brought everyone their little meeting area at Jonestown, a crew of people brought out big jugs of mixed up Kool Aid with cyanide, and everyone proceeded to drink up – some were force fed, et cetera. You get the picture.

The-Sacrament-pic-300x210This is essentially the plot of The Sacrament, however, West does not use this as a “based on a true story” tale. It never says this anywhere. I believe West used the Jim Jones story to translate things into a new modern era. This also explains the reasoning behind choosing VICE as a way to explore the Jones story through a different lens, as well as a neat way to help lend the film a found footage feel. People will argue it isn’t “true” found footage, but it is – using VICE, West is able to disguise this as one of their hands on trips to a foreign country, practicing what they call “immersionism”, and so under that he’s able to also incorporate little bits of editing and the like.
Which brings me to one of the things I really feel puts this movie over as a horrifying ordeal. Aside from all the imagery of terror throughout, especially in the final reel, the music really helps West’s film in regards to atmosphere and tone. The mood is immediately set when the VICE guys roll into the Eden Parish complex (the West-version of Jonestown) and soon the foreboding music begins. It’s really great. As things get more uncomfortable, and at times downright creepy, the score goes along: it gets dark and deep, slow, picking up its pace in parallel to that of the film itself. This is one of my favourite parts about the inclusion of VICE as part of the plot – West can account for the sense of editing inherent in the music by putting it off on VICE taking the footage back, editing later, as they do. This helps alleviate some of the pressures of the found footage sub-genre. West didn’t have to be too strict worrying about whether or not everything seemed perfectly explainable in as far as they had to perfectly fit the found footage “rules” in order for people to accept how things were being filmed (because we all know when it comes to horror and sub-genres specifically some fans are picky as all hell – to an unfair fault both to the filmmakers, as well as their own enjoyment of movies..). All that said, the music is just really wonderful. I couldn’t care less if it fit or not with the found footage aspect because it just worked so well for the film I really cannot complain one bit.
sacrament-880x320 For those who don’t particularly care for / follow Ti West, he often works in conjunction with a bunch of other filmmakers and actors associated with the “mumblegore” film movement (a particularly silly moniker I think doesn’t do their talent justice). These people include fellow directors Adam Wingard and Joe Swanberg (who regularly acts as well), actors A.J Bowen and Amy Seimetz, and multi-talent Kentucker Audley (everyone aside from Audley was involved with Wingard’s 2001 directorial effort You’re Next which was only just released last year; West acted in that one and got murdered fairly quickly).
In this movie, we get everybody mentioned aside from Wingard. Bowen and Swanberg play the VICE guys – each of them are very believable and because of their previous relationship were clearly able to appear natural together on camera + playing faux-real people in the documentary-styled film. I particularly love Bowen, and here he is very good. I thought he played the character of Sam well from start to finish – both as the confident VICE reporter and then later as the scared man trying to help himself while also worrying about helping others. Bowen worked well as Sam in those later bits because West played with the fact this man was an expecting father. While he clearly wanted to get out of there, as anyone would especially if they have no real personal attachment to the place, Bowen showed the struggle of a man who couldn’t fly back home to his pregnant wife, his unborn child, knowing he didn’t do anything and everything he could to help the men, women, and children at Eden Parish. There was some great stuff in there. Bowen helped get that out and make it part of why The Sacrament was effective.
Amy Seimetz, who is always fantastic and great at playing complex female characters, gives a great performance as the sister to Audley’s character; she is one of the lost flock who follow Father down to Eden Parish. In fact, the scene between Audley and Seimetz (you’ll know which one) later in the film is not only heartbreaking, it is a master class in acting. Each of them were in fine form, most certainly Audley, but it was definitely one of the most heartwrenching scenes of any horror film in 2014; without a doubt. I could feel the pain dripping out the frame. Classic scene.

6-the-sacramentI know some people wonder why Ti West chose a story such as that of Jones to use as a template for this story in The Sacrament. But again, I say it – nowhere does West claim that his film is whatsoever based on a true story. He knows we’re smart enough to understand where it comes from – even those younger moviegoers who may not be all that familiar with Jones will probably, through the internet, come to figure out this has some basis in reality.
Regardless, West crafts something better than just a Lifetime Biography on the Jonestown Massacre because he doesn’t hold it to the standards of the actual story. West could write a more diverse character in Father by not holding him strictly to the mould of Jim Jones. If he had based this completely on Jones, he would have had to stick with the period of time in which it happened – right there, not only does this eliminate any elaboration on the character types within the story, it also completely puts the kibosh on the VICE angle, and then all the threads start slowly wearing away. I think it was smart of West to choose this story, as it’s socially relevant in any time let alone the strange times we live in today, and by manipulating it and not sticking totally to a true story he is able to leave certain aspects unlimited.
For instance, the relationship between the brother and sister (Audley and Seimetz) could have been done through an unchanged version of the Jonestown story, however, it also risks not doing justice to actual survivors.
While people can argue it’s just as insensitive (or whatever else they want to say) that West would make a fictional story out of a tragedy which really happened, he really makes a great film and tells a rich story. By not making this the Jim Jones story, he also sheds some responsibilities – not only to the sub-genre of found footage film, but also to the real people who experienced Jonestown firsthand.
Bad taste? I don’t think so. Not by my watch. This is a great and powerful horror film for modern audiences. It satisfied me to no end. Having seen almost ever single piece of Ti West’s work as a director, I can honestly say his work gets better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing In a Valley of Violence. He’s a guy to keep your eye on.