Posted by: Kristen Hicks | October 7, 2011

The Roost with Ti West at the Alamo

Ti West’s first feature film combines elements of many past horror films and creates a fairly unique and successful low budget scary movie experience.

The villain of the film takes two forms: a group of bats prone to attack the people they encounter, and the corpses of those killed by the bats that come back as zombies. Our protagonists are four friends in their 20’s on their way to a wedding. Their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and in their attempt to find some help, they end up at a seemingly abandoned farm.

The empty barn and the farm surrounding it that serve as the primary setting offer a lot of empty space for the characters and filmmaker to work with and the situation the characters find themselves in is appropriately grim and hopeless. They spend a lot of time waiting to see what terrible scene will play out next while trying to figure out any option that will improve their circumstances.

While the effects for the bats are surprisingly impressive considering the low budget of the film, the best scenes come from the characters fighting off the zombies that are created by the bat attacks. Underlining the characters’ quick descent into a reality lacking all safety, the first character to turn is a cop. Well, technically the first characters to turn are an adorable old couple, which still serves to emphasize the subversion of the seemingly safe, but the first we see is the cop. From there, each of the characters tries desperately to avoid the bats and zombies and one by one fail.

My favorite part of the movie was the framing device. At the beginning, end and once or twice in the middle of the movie’s primary action, we’re treated to the black and white world of a horror tv show, with Tom Noonan as the “spooky” host giving occasional narration to the feature. Having grown up watching MonsterVision (with Joe Bob Briggs) for most of my early horror movie exposure, I absolutely appreciate the movie giving a nod to the fun of watching scary movies on tv as a kid. Per Ti West’s comments at the screening, that was pretty much his intention in including it.

The movie’s main weakness is that while the characters don’t feel unrealistic, they don’t feel especially fleshed out. This is far from rare in horror movies as the emphasis is more on action oriented scenes than carefully crafted character moments, but I would have liked to feel like I knew the characters a little better. They felt like fairly cookie cutter 20-somethings. Even the affection between the siblings didn’t really work for me and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.

I think for most horror film aficionados, the enjoyment of a scary movie is as much tied to that memory of the scares you experienced in your younger days and recognizing where a movie fits in within the wider genre in terms of its influences as actually getting a scare. At a certain point, you’re unlikely to jump while watching a movie or experience any lingering fears after it ends anymore, but the movies in the genre maintain their appeal on a different level. The Roost does a pretty good job of playing into what makes a movie work on that level.


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