I have a lot of respect for Ti West. Why? Because he’s self-admittedly just another kid making movies. Zero pretention. Lots of talent. That said, I can’t say that I’m going to gush over his movies, even if I enjoyed them all. I have seen three of his four feature films. The odd one out is Cabin Fever 2, which I am most definitely looking forward to. Creating no-budget fan fare, West seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
It all started with The Roost in 2005: a B-movie about vampire bats that turn people into zombie-like creatures. Showtime picked up the film quickly in what could be called a stroke of luck, but the film continued to forge a reputation on the festival circuit. Of course, it didn’t take long for West to get the gears turning for Trigger Man in 2007, which followed a group of friends on a hunting trip who are suddenly attacked by a sniper from within the woods. West proved that he could work with a shoestring budget once again, but he also showed that he could be an actor’s director. We all know what comes next…The House of the Devil in 2009. Suddenly, Ti West is as prolific as ever. The film about a babysitting job gone awry brought in terrific reviews from critics, bloggers, and fans. In four years, an ambitious kid making movies has become a household name…well at least in the horror blogosphere he is.
A throwback film that certainly has its moments. Told as if it were a part of Nightmare Theatre (or “Frightmare Theatre” as it’s called in the film), campy isn't the right word. How about "old school"? Although the green actors and lack of production value are noticed, I still found the film to be quite enjoyable. I was more interested in watching this movie as a peek into Ti West’s beginnings, gaining insight into his development and watching for low-budget tricks, rather than picking it apart. Some of the highlights include Tom Noonan, the brilliant string score, and believe it or not…the CG bats. The digitally crafted creatures of the night actually looked pretty good. I’ve definitely seen worse, particularly a certain film starring LDP. All in all, The Roost was fun, but feels like its pushing for screen time all the way through.
A very different film from The Roost and from The House of the Devil for that matter. No cheese, no throwbacks. This film strips down the filmmaking process to its bones. Ti West literally follows the actors through the woods with a digital camera, which some may find to be a turn off, but I enjoyed it. Some would compare it to the Dogma Movement, but I’m not a fan of those films even though it does share similar qualities to West’s naturalistic approach here. The first half of the film was admittedly boring, but once it got going, I was engaged. It was actually refreshing to see a movie where you know the director is getting his hands dirty, standing knee-deep in water to get his shots, running though thick brush and collecting scratches for the sake of the craft. The climax is terrific and somewhat unexpected. If only more conflict or points of interest had been added to the first act of the film, it would be easier for me to argue that this is West’s best movie that I’ve seen.
The House of the Devil:
80’s throwback film that definitely epitomizes a slow-burn. The direction, cinematography, and acting were the stars of West’s third movie. His style is beginning to emerge and I love it. Odd combinations of visual understatements, campy zooms, hard lighting, silhouettes, and most of all, patience. West really shows his admiration for the filmmaking medium in The House of the Devil—every shot is important. The pacing, however, really dampens the terrific atmosphere that is created. The last act falls flat and the climax is almost nonexistent. The reveals don’t really work as reveals, the main character never actually appears to be in danger (she escapes from her rope binding with ease), and there are simply too many questions left unanswered for me. I get it, but I wanted more. I especially thought the characters deserved more since they were so well crafted. I liked The House of the Devil, but was so underwhelmed by the ending that I had a scrunched-up face of disappointment by the time the credits rolled.
I’m just waiting for Ti West to blow me away, because I know that he’s insanely creative and I love his style. He can create suspense, engaging characters, and he can handle a variety of tonalities. Most of all, I enjoy watching his movies because I admire his filmmaking path. He reminds me of myself and I think, “Why can’t I do that?” Ti West is a reminder that to do what you love, you have to take risks. You have to get out there and just do it…In a pair of Nikes. :P