So last night I watched Ti West's House of the Devil and I really really enjoyed it. Pretty much everyone who's into horror films raved about this one when it was released a couple of years ago so I won't go on about it too much. I'd put off watching it because people were telling me that what was so great about it was that it was like a 70s film. I assumed this meant it was part of the rather tedious grindhouse revival and would have authentic film scratches, deliberately bad edits and knowing winks to the audience to show that the filmmakers are fully aware that they are making a bad film - when will people learn that you can't set out to make a good bad film? The bad films that are funny are only awesome because the filmmakers made them with complete sincerity.
Anyway, House of the Devil isn't trying to be a 'so bad it's good' film. It's simply a very good horror film. There is something very deliberately retro about it, but it's a stylistic decision and one that really helps the film. And it tells a proper story.
I don't want to give too much away in case you haven't seen it, but it has a really interesting structure. First off, West isn't afraid to use the first 30 minutes of the film to concentrate on developing the main character, played brilliantly by Jocelin Donahue. There are no scares in this first section which is exactly how it should be. This is something that is missed by so many modern horror films, but we just won't care about the characters when they're in danger unless we get to know them first. Here, we do.
What happens next is a slow-paced, perfectly executed building of tension. The majority of the film is scenes of Donahue's character wandering around a house on her own. You wouldn't think this could keep an audience interested but every time it starts to get boring West throws in a plot point, but makes sure to only give it to the audience. By the end we know more about what's going on in the house than the main character does and that really works.
The slow build really pays off when the horror finally kicks off in the last 15 minutes. Because it's so well structured there's a huge sense of relief as the tension is released coupled with genuine fear for a character you've come to sympathise with over the course of the film.
House of the Devil is a lesson in how to pace a horror film and for that reason it should be required viewing for anyone looking to work in the genre.