Not too long ago, I made mention that “if I had to pick my top five horror movies of 2009, House Of The Devil would definitely make the cut.” Here’s why.
For my money, this is one of the best realizations of Alfred Hitchcock’s “bomb theory” ever put to film. “A bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it” Hitchcock explained, “probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one… The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!" For Hitchcock, building tension involves the audience in a film more than sudden shocks.
The first 80 minutes of The House Of The Devil is almost entirely ticking bomb. Along with the title (oh, what a giveaway), the movie begins with the words, “During the 1980s over 70% of American adults believed in the existence of abusive Satanic Cults.” So, in the first ten seconds you see the bomb planted, you know exactly what the main character has in store for her. You just don’t know when. And you wait and you wait while she walks around her college, goes to the titular house, watches TV, orders a pizza, explores all the rooms, looks out the windows. Honestly, if you prefer quick cuts and jump scares in your horror movies, then you’ll likely find this film excruciatingly dull. But if you enjoy suspense, lots and lots and lots and lots of… well, you get the idea. If you like that, then this is THE movie for you.
And really, as Christians, waiting for a big payoff should be no problem. Every reading this week has something to do with patiently biding our time until God delivers on His promises. “However, there are very different ways of waiting.” Pope Benedict XVI reminds us. “If time is not filled by a present gifted with meaning, the waiting runs the risk of becoming unbearable; if something is expected, but at this moment there is nothing, namely, if the present is empty, every instant that passes seems exaggeratedly long, and the waiting is transformed into a weight that is too heavy because the future is totally uncertain. When, instead, time is gifted with meaning and we perceive in every instant something specific and valuable, then the joy of waiting makes the present more precious.” Christian waiting is active, not passive. We don’t sit on our butts until God pops in with a big musical cue and shouts BOO. Instead, we constantly work on our salvation with fear and trembling and with a growing sensation that something big is coming. It’s coming. We just don’t know when.