Although a date is never given, it is obvious by the feathered hair and Walkmans that this film is set in the 80's. A young college student, Samantha, is desperate to move into an apartment of her own. She finds one that is perfect (the landlady is Dee Wallace!) but she cannot afford the down payment. Desperate, she takes a "babysitting" job in a spooky, isolated house. The "parents," the Ulmans, played by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, offer Samantha a ridiculous amount of money to watch "mother" for the evening. Samantha accepts, and as you would expect, things go downhill from there.
If you like your horror films action packed and fast paced, House of the Devil is not for you. West builds up the suspense slowly. Very, very slowly. But it is worth it. Smartly, he gives you a shocking jolt near the beginning of the film, a hint of the horrors to come. Jocelin Donahue is great as the girl in peril/final girl/Laurie Strode hero/victim. Tom Noonan nails his role as Mr. Ulman. He is slightly charming but socially awkward, like many a Stanford Professor round my parts. Watching his performance I couldn't help thinking, "God, I've met this guy. I bet he is a member of the Hoover Institute." Yes, he is that scary.
I am looking forward to Ti West's next film. I haven't seen Cabin Fever 2 yet, but it is on my list. And I think Tom Noonan should just be in every film.
On an unrelated note, I was very happy that the Oscars played "tribute" to the horror genre last night (the inclusion of The Twilight films and Edward Scissorhands notwithstanding). The best part was Martin and Baldwin's Paranormal Activity parody. I can't find a good version on the net, but it is worth checking out. And congratulations to Katherine "Near Dark" Bigelow! Not only are you the first woman to win best director, you also beat your ex-husband! That has got to feel good!