Directed by Ti West
Produced by Susan Leber
Written by Ti West
Director of Photograpy Eric Robbins
Music by Jeff Grace
Cast: Tom Noonan, Wil Horneff, Vanessa Horneff, Karl Jacob, Sean Reid
2005/81 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.78:1/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Paramount Home Entertainment DVD
One of the most common criticisms that movie reviewers like to throw around is that a film is unoriginal. (Which, ironically, makes that criticism unoriginal.) But, how many films truly are original? Let me tell you, not many. From there, we must examine if a film is "borrowing" ideas from other movies, or paying homage to previous films. The answer is usually pretty clear-cut. Then, we have movies like THE ROOST. The film is hardly original, but it's got a style that is so unusual that it certainly begs for attention.
THE ROOST tells the story of four friends, Trevor (Karl Jacob), Allison (Vanessa Horneff), Brian (Sean Reid), and Elliot (Wil Horneff), who are traveling to the wedding of an old friend. It's Halloween Night and Trevor has decided to take a shortcut down a very desolate road. Suddenly, something strikes the car, which becomes stuck on the side of the road. The quartet walks to a nearby farmhouse to ask for help, but no one is home. While Trevor and Elliot continue to look for help, Brian decides to explore the very large barn on the property. The group will soon learn that the barn is home to a large colony of bats. But these aren't ordinary bats. They carry a dark curse which will make the night a very violent and deadly one.
Over the past decade, it's become quite commonplace for horror films to have a cinematic style which utilizes quick cuts, rapid editing, and double-exposures, all of which are usually accompanied by shrill sound effects. (I still feel that THIR13EN GHOSTS is the best example of this style.) It's gotten to the point that I find this kind of filmmaking trite and hackneyed. Thankfully, THE ROOST only contains one brief moment in which this technique is used. In fact, THE ROOST goes in the exact opposite direction. I've yet to decide if director/writer/editor Ti West is a brilliant filmmaker or a savant, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment.
Much of THE ROOST is very slow -- painfully slow. There were many moments where I was tempted to reach for the remote control. But, just when it seems like nothing is going to happen, something suddenly does. I must admit, it's been a long time since I really "jumped" in a movie, but there were two good "jump" scares in THE ROOST. Again assuming that this was all intentional, West has edited THE ROOST in such a way that the viewer assumes that nothing is going to happen and then "Bam!". The movie contains several shots were the actors simply stand still, as it waiting for West to call "action" or "cut". I honestly expected David Lynch to lean into the frame and say, "Man, this is a slow movie!". But, West always gives us something.
Not only does THE ROOST have a very "old school" feel in its style, the story feels like something out of the late 70s or early 80s. There is nothing fancy happening here. The kids have car trouble, go to an isolated house, and bad things begin to happen. I'm still not sold on the idea of people becoming violent zombies after being bitten by bats, but the premise certainly works in the film. Other than that, there is no story here, and the film makes no apologies for it. The story begins and ends with the tale of these travelers (well, that's not exactly true -- more on that in a moment), and the movie offers no explanation for the proceedings. Actually, one of the few thematic stumbling blocks in the film is when Trevor and Elliot have a conversation about Allison and Brian. This scene feels out of place and makes the viewer long for the movie to get back to the slow-paced scares.
While THE ROOST is a promising work, it's not without its flaws. The bulk of the second half of the film takes place in the barn. Apparently, this multi-story barn is huge, as it contains many rooms and levels. I found this to be very confusing, as I never understood the geography of the barn and had no idea where the characters were. The oddest thing about is the wrap-around "Horror Host" segments which book-end the film. The total running time for THE ROOST is only 81 minutes, and that's even with the long, drawn out shots. The film begins and ends with actor Tom Noonan (MANHUNTER, LAST ACTION HERO) hosting a black-and-white TV show. He introduces the film, appears during an "intermission" and then comes on again after the film. The idea is OK, but the whole thing feels tacked on.
I'm sure that many readers ran screaming for the exits when they read all of that "slow paced" stuff, but if that doesn't deter you, then you may want to give THE ROOST a chance. The movie certainly reminded me of older horror films (actually, it reminded me of a specific one, but I just can't place it) and I liked the fact that the characters were introduced and then the guano hit the fan. Don't let the DVD cover art fool you. This film is less about bats and more about four people trapped in a seriously freaky situation.
THE ROOST uses sonar to find DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. Despite the fact that the DVD box states that the movie is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs, the transfer is letterboxed at a non-anamorphic 1.78:1. This transfer could spark a debate on art versus picture quality. Director Ti West and director of photography Eric Robbins have opted to shoot a lot of THE ROOST using only flashlights and other modest light sources. This has resulted in a movie which is incredibly grainy. At times, I thought it was raining. The action is generally visible, but the grain is just outrageous. The colors are fine, but most of the action takes place in near-dark conditions, so the hues don't exactly jump off of the screen. In addition to the grain, I noticed a touch of edge-enhancement. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track (although the Dolby 2.0 track is the default one). The audio is OK, but uneven. There is some hissing on the track in some shots. At times, everything is fine, in others, the dialogue is muffled. The stereo effects are fine, but there wasn't very much in the way of surround sound or subwoofer effects.
The DVD carries a few extras. "Making THE ROOST" is a 31-minute featurette which essentially consists of on-location video where cast and crew members occasionally address the camera. There is also footage of the location used for the horror host segments. "The Truth About Bats" (10 minutes) features Bat Conservation International founder Merlin Tuttle talking about bats. The segment is educational, but very, very dry. Ti West's student film "Prey" is included here and it's interesting to see how the pacing differs from THE ROOST. The extras are rounded out with a PHOTO GALLERY.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©