Pitched as a mere homage to the American horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, but more closely resembling an actual artifact from that era, The House of the Devil may be the most faithful period piece about the Reagan years since Donnie Darko. At the very least, its acid-washed Levi's, its new wave dance steps, and its idle chatter about the well-known safety of Volvos, are more on point than anything in this summer's grossly anachronistic Adventureland.
Shot on location in Connecticut, The House of the Devil unfolds in "West Springfield," a generic university town not unlike Adventureland's drab Pennsylvania setting. Working with a cool efficiency reminiscent of the early John Carpenter, writer-director-editor Ti West and cinematographer Eliot Rockett are expert at using the bland, barren features of this fictional burb—its pizza parlors, parking lots, roadside cemeteries and ringing payphones—to create a classical horror atmosphere, a place banal and chilling all at once.
College sophomore Sam (Jocelin Donahue) answers an ad for a babysitter, leading her, on the night of a full lunar eclipse, to a Victorian mansion in the woods. As the kook hiring her, Tom Noonan is exquisitely weird, but the standout performance goes to mumblecore coquette Greta Gerwig, who, as Sam's spacey, loudmouthed best friend, makes the act of chewing and talking at the same time exciting. West's gory final act is a herky-jerky letdown (the Devil apparently favors handheld cameras) but the economy, rigor, and formal inventiveness of the film's patient first hour deserve your Halloween weekend viewing more than a thousand Saws put together.
Opens October 30