02 November 2010
Maybe it's poor timing to watch this; after all, I just complained at length about the way they light "darkness" in films. The moon is supposed to be gone, the power out, but the lights inside are bright and the witchy woman prays out a window where light is brighter than midday. It's not quite as bad as The Trigger Effect but it stands out. Anyway, that's nitpicky, but as I've started to practically fetishize real, frightening darkness in film, these things stand out.
The truth is The House of the Devil has an unengaging-but-not-bad first act and a half, but when (at the hour mark) it starts to finally build some tension and mystery into the story, it works. In fact, I'd say it works more for the pacing than for the mystery, because if I stop and think about it I'd have to admit that I was never all that intrigued by the mystery of the story (and gratified that things were explained away in quick, dialogue-free shots that bordered on cutaway/b-roll, rather than some clunky exposition for stuff we didn't care about). But I didn't stop to think, really, because the story kept moving right along. I'm not sure Samantha makes a single rational decision in this picture -- so at least she's consistent -- but it worked well enough partially because of the "pastiche" tone of it and partially because, again, momentum kept the story going. We did want her to go up into the attic and peek, so even if she had no reason to do so we went along with her.
So the film worked, and ended pretty well -- the speed of the action just kept increasing until, smartly, there was no time to waste on silly things like unnecessary monologues or performance showboating -- but it did it by sacrificing things like character development. For this particular story I think that was the right decision, but it's not a road I'm very tempted to go down. By contrast Alien manages to be a steady downhill slide into tense action without ever letting the characters act arbitrarily or become one-note voices.
These little first-response blog posts have become more and more navel-gazing the more I treat movie watching as writing research. Apologies for that. It's difficult to record initial thoughts about a film without referencing whatever's on my mind, and lately (as perhaps you can tell by my viewing habits) I've become a bit of a monomaniac. So it goes!