Director – Ti West
Cast – Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace
Release Year – 2009
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Nearly all true horror fans have an incredible amount of respect for the 80s horror films we grew up loving, and still love to this very day. Thankfully, writer/director Ti West is a fan of such horror films as well, and gave us all a treat that shall not be forgotten. With horror cinema’s ever-growing technological advances, it came as a surprise to me that this film was shot the way it was. If you did not know any better, you would assume this film was an actual film FROM the 80s. Yes, that is right. Relying heavily on atmosphere and development, such as another satanic film The Exorcist, this flick is one you will have to see for yourself to believe.
The film stars Jocelin Donahue(The Burrowers) as Samantha, a sophomore in college in desperate need of money to pay for her new apartment. She sees an advertisement on campus for a babysitter needed, and quickly sees a quick and easy way to make money. Upon meeting her babysitters, their shady mannerisms trouble her, but nonetheless they pay well and she accepts the job. What seems too good to be true, IS too good to be true. Little does Samantha know, the owners of the home plan on using her for a satanic ritual that coincides with a lunar eclipse going on that very night.
As I mentioned earlier, if you did not know about this film prior to viewing it, you would assuredly assume this film came straight from the 80s. The score, the scenery, the picture quality, it is all there, a great touch for what this film plans on giving it’s audience. We have seen time and time again where a young girl answers a babysitting call and goes through one hell of a night, and in all honesty…I never get tired of it. There is just something about staying in a complete stranger’s home that is very unsettling to me, especially if they come off as shady as the homeowners in this film.
Ti West’s development of the plot is excellent, and although it does take quite a while for things to get going, I was hooked nonetheless. That really does tell me something. When a film shows little to no outright horror scenes, yet still keeps me engaged that is a true testament to great writing/direction and great overall filmmaking. What really helped with this element was the use of the Mr. Ulman, which was complimented by the use of Mrs. Ulman. They come of as shady, of course, but not so much that they come off overly predictable. You know something is wrong, and they are not telling Samantha everything, but at the same time come off so humble and warm-hearted that you can see why she would take the job and not be so overly alarmed. Excellently done Mr. West. The atmosphere created thanks to the Ulman’s old creaky home was great as well, with many dark and shadowy corners that set the mood for the viewer and raise the creep-factor(as I like to call it). In the end though, what really assists all of these elements is Ti West’s cinematography. From what I have studied on the guy, it seems his cinematography is love/hate. Some hate the fact that he has so many wide open shots, allowing the character on screen to walk away from the lens without any zooming in. Personally, in THIS film, I enjoyed it. It came off to me as a big reference to 80s cinematography, namely John Carpenter’s camera use in Halloween. Watch both, and you will see the resemblance; not exact, but enough to compare the two.
Probably the biggest complaint I see with Ti West’s films, including this one, is his overly long development of the plot/film. I mentioned earlier that it does take a while to get things going, and anyone who has seen this film will testify to that. Put it this way, the film is 1hr and 29mins long before the credits roll, yet we don’t get our first shot at outright horror until 1hr and 15mins into the film! What, only 14 minutes of on-screen horror? Yes, and although that is a short amount of time, this film keeps it’s creep-factor relatively high from beginning to climax. Don’t get me wrong, the development is nowhere near “boring”, and in fact does provide a few nice little chills here and there to keep you engaged. If you are looking for an outright non-stop horror film then you will have to look elsewhere. This film plays off the 80s atmospheric horror films, and those take a while to get going.
Aside from this film’s awesome direction, the writing is pretty well done as well. A slow developing film such as this one could not survive on direction alone. We do not get a high number of characters in the film, but the use of each character was warranted and none were useless. Time and time again I see characters thrown into a film seemingly because the director needed some “eye candy” to keep the audience awake, which should be a sign that said film is lacking in one area or another. Ti West’s best writing aspect in this film would not be the writing for our lead, Samantha, but for Mr. Ulman. Mr. Ulman sold the film to me, with his select choice of words and humble-creepiness that stayed in my mind and kept me engaged in what I saw, waiting for the “break”(when outright horror kicks in during a slow film) to hit me. Thankfully, when the horror did come in it was abrupt and surprisingly violent. I was however a bit disappointed with the film’s climax. I was hoping we would get some nice demon-oriented action, especially this being a “Satanic” cult and all, but all we really were given was some bloody action and a final scene that was slightly ambiguous, but if my prediction is correct…ill-fated at best. Oh well, the great development and testament to great writing and direction were enough to allot me to forgive this film for not giving me a climax I will never forget.
Overall, this is a great throwback film to the classic atmospheric 80s flicks we all know and love, and I recommend this to fans of such flicks. Keep in mind this film is quite slow, but worth it all the way.