Post Millennial Trauma: The Roost(2005)
There’s really no way around this and it makes this series a bit redundant, but the best Horror film of 2005 was also one of the best films full stop of the last decade: Neil Marshall’s magnificent The Descent. We’ve covered this so extensively that I cannot be bothered to go over it again. So, if you’re interested in that fantastic film (or at least what we think about it) my Pulitzer worthy review is here, or Droid’s is here
Instead, I’ve gone for Ti West’s much lesser known film as at least I’ll have something to talk about that we haven’t covered to death. However, before I start, I just want to say that I think 2005 marked the absolute nadir of Horror. Every nation was equally culpable, but the list of absolute dogshit released that year is simply astonishing, and I’m not talking slightly boring films, I’m talking absolutely reprehensible shit. Torture Porn was hitting it’s peak so we’ve got options such as Wolf Creek, Hostel (fuck you Roth), The Devil’s Rejects (fuck you Rob Zombie), Saw 2 etc. There was also a plethora of utterly vile shiny American films such as Boo, Hide and Seek, Boogeyman, An American Haunting (this is a terrible film by the way) that all depend on a twist. However, the real crime of 2005 was the amount of remakes- there are fucking loads of them: Amityville, The Fog, House of Wax etc etc etc, and they’re all terrible. In the midst of this, The Roost slipped out and not one single person saw it. There are other options that I’m going to come back to (Feast and Isolation notably), but this little film is the first 2005 review.
I knew next to nothing about this film when I started watching it, and I think that is the best way to see it. It’s nearly impossible to spoil anyway, and to be absolutely honest, the plot is so threadbare that it almost counts as incidental to the film.
The Roost opens with an homage to cheesy American late night horror film shows. Tom Noonan appears as the host in a clichéd spooky mansion setting in black and white to introduce the film. This is all quite good fun, actually, although it does go on a bit too far, but this is (I suspect) deliberate as I will go in to below. The film proper starts, and the basic gist of it is this: group of teens forced to take shelter in a barn as they’re being attacked by vampire bats. If bitten, then the victim will turn into a zombie and attempt to eat whatever they can catch.
The Roost is a s-l-o-w film, in fact, I’d almost go as far as describing it as sedate. The first killing in the film, seems to take an interminable amount of time to get to, and it’s incredibly frustrating because it is flamingly obvious that these two are not the main characters of the film- it’s the standard horror movie opening. Once our main characters appear, the pace doesn’t exactly pick up, West is clearly content to let his film unfold in a very deliberate way. He did a similar thing with House of the Devil, but it’s much more effective in that film as there is an air of menace that The Roost simply doesn’t have.
Eventually, actually, the direction turns into one of the film’s real strengths. This is deliberately proclaiming itself a B-movie, but it’s far classier than that. Sure, the effects suck (the bats look like a throwback to the 70’s) but some of the shot composition (notably Trevor at the barn door at the end, which reminded me very much of Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is simply fabulous. It’s pretending to be a B-movie, and there is the requisite graininess to it, but to be absolutely fair, it’s far too classy for such low ambitions.
I don’t normally really talk about Direction and such like because I tend to not know what I’m talking about. I can see when it’s bad (obviously) but when it’s good, I can tell that it’s good but can’t really describe it. In the case of The Roost, the film really does feel like a throwback to the 70’s and the pacing, composition, effects and the rest really add to this. So, I’m crediting West with it.
Then there’s the acting and dialogue. Now, I am qualified to talk about it, and I have to say that I don’t like any of the performances in this film. Possibly because West was aiming for that whole early Tobe Hooper vibe, or there may be another reason, but nevertheless the dialogue is pretty bland and the acting is very scratchy. If anything it feels improvised, and this could well be deliberate, but it instead felt amateurish and jarring in a film as otherwise polished as The Roost. There’s no point me singling out any individual actor (with the exception of Noonan, who’s clearly enjoying himself) as they all give basically an identical performance, and could all also be basically the same character.
However, it’s not all bad. The setting is intrinsically creepy, and allied with the glacial pace of the film, it does manage to eventually generate the required tension. West uses the location well (not as well as he uses the house in House of the Devil), and clearly understands the menace that these kind of locations can give to a film. Furthermore, the score is also a throwback to better times, and complements the setting well, being creepy and a series of minor chords that set the nerves on edge and contributes the setting nicely.
However, all of the above (both good and bad) is basically a direct result of one thing- The Roost does not contain anywhere near enough material to justify full feature length. I’m not one of the ADD MTV generation, but this is a very slight film and feels stretched beyond breaking point. I do wonder if it wouldn’t make a fabulous short part in one of those portmanteau films and watching it made me believe that this flimsy story would be far better served as the middle part to one of these stories. Everything is so overextended- The Hosts sections, some of the wondering around trying to fix the car, hiding in the barn, escaping etc. It’s half an hour’s worth of great material completely overstretched. Which reminds me, the wolf seen at the very end of the film looks suspiciously like the one in Ginger Snaps, and as this clearly has no budget, I’m wondering if it is the same one.
Overall, this is a promising debut. It’s not a bad film and in the sea of sewage that is 2005 it’s a positively fantastic film. Yet, I can’t bring myself to fully endorse it. The Roost is a sedate, creepy, reasonably enjoyable film but lacks the sensibilities of pure schlock (which it clearly aspires to) and also lacks the depth to justify full feature length. As it isn’t bad, and I’m feeling generous, I’m giving it 2 and a half crap cartoon bats out of 4.
That’s the shitty years finished- on to 2006 and the frankly magnificent Behind the Mask.