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Film / The House of the Devil

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"This one night changes everything for me."

Mrs. Ulman: You're a godsend.
Samantha: It's nothing.
Mrs. Ulman: Not to us, it's not.

The House of the Devil is a 2009 horror film written, directed and edited by Ti West and starring Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig, Tom Noonan, Dee Wallace, Mary Woronov and A.J. Bowen.

In the 1980s, college student Samantha Hughes (Donahue) finds a small apartment to live in but struggles to come up with the first month's rent. Out of desperation, she takes a babysitting job that will coincide with a full lunar eclipse, even after several strange interactions with the man who placed the ad.

Upon arriving at the isolated house where the job will take place, which belongs to the Ulman family, mysteries and revelations begin to pile up in increasingly bizarre forms, leading Samantha to the terrifying secret kept by her clients.

The film is notable for its convincing retraux evocation of horror movies from the 1970s and '80s, mainly in the slasher and Haunted House subgenres. This was achieved through means including the use of filming equipment from the times (such as 16mm film), the emulation of then-standard filming techniques (like the preference of camera zooms over dolly-ins), stylized opening and closing credits, and dramatized claims of its story being based on true events à la The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Amityville Horror (1979).

As this is a film with a plot containing major twists, watch out for spoilers.

This movie contain examples of the following tropes:

  • The '80s: The story takes place sometime within this decade, possibly 1983. The film itself is a homage to old horror movies of the era, combining elements of the slasher and haunted house subgenres of the '70s and '80s.
  • Action Survivor: Samantha becomes one during the final 20 minutes or so, killing both Victor and Mrs. Ulman after freeing herself from her bonds.
  • Affably Evil: From beginning to end, Mr. Ulman never stops being civil and personable to Samantha, even though he leads the cult that abducts her. He tries as best as he can to ease her into the truth of what she's really been called to do, both in terms of the babysitting job and the ultimate Satanic ritual, openly invites her to shoot him after she learns the truth, and shows seemingly genuine horror when she turns the gun on herself instead.
  • The Antichrist: Implied to be the end goal of the cult.
  • Beard of Evil: Victor Ulman has a beard and is part of his family's cult.
  • Big Bad: Mr. Ulman is leading the cult.
  • Big Fancy House: The Ulman's house. Samantha spends a good deal of the film exploring it.
  • Big "NO!": In the climax.
    Mr. Ulman: It's your destiny to accept him.
    Samantha: NO!
  • Boom, Headshot!: Megan is shot in the head by Victor, taking off most of her face.
  • Bungled Suicide: Samantha shoots herself in the head in order to prevent the birth of The Antichrist. It doesn't kill her.
  • Death by Pragmatism: Megan knows something is off with the Ulman family, repeatedly urging Samantha to leave when they arrive at their house, getting angry at her for wanting to stay after it's clear that they've misled her, and leaving shortly after. Unfortunately, Megan doesn't make it farther than her car when she meets Victor and gives him an answer he doesn't like.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The ritual in which Samantha is impregnated strongly resembles rape.
  • Downer Ending: Thanks to the Satanic ritual, Samantha is impregnated with (presumably) The Antichrist. During her final showdown with Mr. Ulman, she shoots herself in the head to prevent the birth from happening. However, not only does it put her in a coma instead of kill her, but the final scene reveals that she is still pregnant, indicating that to some extent, the Ulmans were successful in their mission.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Mrs. Ulman is genuinely grief-stricken when she discovers Victor's corpse.
  • Eye Scream: Samantha rams her thumb into Victor's eye, presumably leaving him half-blind, as he grapples her.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When Samantha understandably responds less than warmly to Mr. Ulman breaking the news that carrying the Antichrist is her destiny, he drops to his knees and calmly grants her permission to shoot him if she wants, as he is "just a messenger" and doesn't see the end of his life as that consequential in the grander scheme of the cult.
  • Facial Horror: Megan's face is completely blown off by Victor's gunshot; we see a very, very bloody glimpse of what's left in the moment, but the camera dwells on it when her body reappears in the Ulmans' house as Samantha tries to make her escape and trips over it.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mrs. Ulman and Victor try to act charming and accommodating, but it quickly becomes obvious that something is really off about them. Mrs. Ulman drops the act after Samantha kills her son.
  • Idiot Ball: Megan. She's savvy enough to realise that there's something very wrong with the Ulman family, so she leaves. However, when she stops her car on the empty forest road for a cigarette, a total stranger suddenly appears out of nowhere (without first announcing himself) to offer her a light. Megan, somehow not suspicious in the slightest, accepts his offer and actually sticks around making small talk with him. Turns out he's Victor Ulman, who kills her when he realises she's not their intended target for the ritual.
  • Jump Scare:
    • Victor Ulman's introduction, with his hand suddenly appearing in Megan's window. What he does shortly after is an even bigger one.
    • After growing increasingly on edge due to making discoveries about the Ulmans and hearing strange noises in the house, Samantha is intensely startled by the sudden loud ringing of the phone, although it's just for her to collect the pizza she ordered.
    • Samantha's hallucinations of the priestess's face.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Poor Megan.
    Victor: Are you... are you not the babysitter?
    Megan: No, I'm not the babysitter. My friend— *BANG*
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. At one point, Samantha goes to the toilet, and her peeing is audible.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Megan was only trying to help Samantha by ripping down all the posters to ensure she got the babysitter gig, which resulted in Megan's death, Samantha's attempted suicide, and a night from...literal hell.
  • Nightmare Face: The priestess has a horrible, demonic face.
  • Nothing but Hits: Three '80s singles are listened to by characters. "One Thing Leads To Another" by The Fixx is well-remembered enough to show up on many '80s hits compilations. On the other hand, "One of Our Submarines" by Thomas Dolby and "The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'Em)" by The Greg Kihn Band are a bit more obscure. All three of these songs were released within a few years of each other and would place the film around 1983 or so. And then the soundtrack also uses much more recent music by Gods of Fire, which is just influenced by '80s metal enough to not stick out too much.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Most of the film embodies this, not showing much of the threat imposed until the end, and spending much of the time in the Ulmans' house just following Samantha as she walks around, not showing anything explicitly scary but maintaining a level of tension.
  • Please Kill Me if It Satisfies You: Mr. Ulman offers Samantha the opportunity to kill him at the climax of the film after disclosing her fate as the carrier of the Antichrist.
  • Product Placement: When Samantha and Megan stop at a pizza place near the beginning, they drink from large Coca-Cola paper cups.
  • Religious Horror: The cult are Satan worshippers who are targeting Samantha to conceive the Antichrist.
  • Robbing the Dead: Victor steals Megan's cigarette after blowing her face off.
  • Roommate Drama: Samantha's frustration with her dorm roommate's habits of having sex and not cleaning up after herself, causing almost the entire floor to get covered with trash, is what drives her to look for an apartment.
  • Satanic Panic: Being a Genre Throwback to '70s and '80s horror, the movie opens with a caption about the prevalence of Satanic cults being hidden everywhere in America, and proceeds to tell a story about one that targets a young babysitter.
  • Shout-Out: Samantha briefly watches Night of the Living Dead (1968) on TV, an inclusion likely motivated by it being in the public domain at the time of the film's production.
  • Slashed Throat: Victor Ulman, courtesy of Samantha.
  • Slipping a Mickey: A variant, as it's the pizza Samantha orders, given to her by Victor Ulman posing as a deliveryman, that's drugged.
  • Stylistic Suck: The film was shot on 16mm film and was made intentionally to look like an old movie. Expect lots of grain and murky colors.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Megan is quite suddenly blown away by Victor with very little buildup after he realizes that she's not the babysitter.
  • Survival Mantra: At multiple points, Samantha tries to get her head straight by telling herself to "get a grip."
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Samantha has to stop to vomit blood at multiple points while escaping the Ulmans after the ritual, which is shown on camera.
  • Wham Line: The final line of the film.
    "Don't worry. You're gonna be just fine. Both of you."
  • Wham Shot: A literal shot, no less, courtesy of Victor abruptly shooting Megan in the face, which is the film's first indication of how dark it's going to get and how much danger Samantha will soon be in.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of Mr. Ulman and what exactly happened between Samantha shooting herself and the final scene in the hospital is never elaborated on, though he likely died from getting stabbed in the stomach, as he was shown leaking copious amount of blood after pulling the knife out.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A dead child is shown amongst the bodies in the ritual room.