It’s always a tricky business to go back and what the early films of a director you admire. On one hand you have to be careful not to simply give the movie a pass because of your foreknowledge of what the filmmaker would accomplish, on the other hand its not exactly fair to expect the work of prodigy on a low budget, “We have one take for most of this” Film. You have to try to watch the film with the question “Would this have impressed me if I didn’t know who made it.” Firmly in mind.
Honestly, I don’t know if I would have been all that impressed with The Roost had I walked into it blind. But in the context of Ti West’s career it’s an interesting watch. Displaying lots of raw talent and personality in what is a fairly haphazard film.
From the beginning, The Roost shows West as a director deeply attuned to horror’s past. He frames The Roost as part of an introductory horror show called “Frightmare” with Tom Noonan playing the horror host in a wrap around that telegraphs “My cut of the movie did not make my contractually obligated eighty minutes.” While its always fun to see this stuff, and it draws a connection with his later work the Frightmare material is problematic. On one hand Tom Noonan, which is never a bad thing. On the other hand, it just is so damn unmotivated, not to mention the fact that it allows for a moment that just screams “I’ve just seen Funny Games” and not in a good way and then let’s West end his movie with the exact same jump scare twice in a row.
The rest of the movie follows a car full of twenty somethings on their way to a wedding. They end up stuck on an abandoned country road where they are attacked by bats with a virulent strain of rabies (or something damn close) that ends up infecting them. Hijinks ensue. The concept speaks well of West and his ambition, there are enough challenges for a young filmmaker to deal with without having to wrangle a horde of real, puppet and CGI bats. The fact that
The Roost is surprisingly effective in some places, surprisingly clumsy in other. There are several great moments of tension, a few great shots (including one of an old man walking up to a barn that could come right from the pages of EC) and a couple of great Ti West patented “We know something the characters don’t” beats. But like I said, this is obviously the work of a growing filmmaker. Though West showcases his austere patient style in some places in others he relies on the type of shakycam antics that would never really be seen in one of his films again. He overplays his hand in a couple of corny moments to (At one point the moon turns red! Blood Red I Tells Ya!) In one hilarious moment when switching locations West cuts to a black screen with a giant red NEARBY written on it, for no other reason then the fact that he apparently believes that basic film grammar is beyond our ken.
So perhaps it would be to much to say that The Roost is an auspicious beginning, but it is a beginning with potential. That in itself doesn’t mean much, there are few commodities cheaper than potential. But West capitalized on his, and if The Roost is nothing else than the film that got the ball rolling then it’s well worth a place in any horror fan’s heart.