I was pretty hard on Ti West's House of the Devil a while back. Said I liked the look of the film enough to maybe give the guy another chance. Man, I'm glad I did because The Roost is pretty fucking great. Like House, The Roost is heavy on atmospherics. Unlike House, however, most of the characters were likable, and the story actually seemed like it was heading somewhere. Basically, I gave a fuck.
In the picture's only misfire, the story is structured around a late night horror program starring Tom Noonan (House of the Devil, Manhunter) as some sort of crypt keeper. Noonan introduces the tale with a complete lack of relish (which is something Noonan probably couldn't muster anyway). He periodically interrupts the tale to methodically babble on about some shit before returning us to what we actually give a shit about. I liked the idea of this much more than the execution. The best I can say about the horror show stuff is it's in black and white. This shit might work better if this were an anthology film. My one nitpick aside, let's move on.
The real movie concerns four friends driving through the middle of nowhere (of course) to attend a wedding. It's nighttime. It's Halloween. They're already late. I loved the lighting of these scenes, shot entirely in the little car, lit in a reddish hue, the two characters in the front seat arguing over being lost while a horror program softly warbles from the radio.
Cut to an old couple, living on a farm, jumping into their truck to head out for a night on the town (or maybe the old country buffet. Whatever, doesn't really matter). The old man forgets to lock the barn, heads on down (the distance from the barn to the house seems unnaturally far) and disappears. After a while, the wife follows. Back to the four friends who, after crossing a creepy bridge, drive into a ditch. Hmmm, we just saw an old farmhouse back down the road. Maybe we can call a tow truck there? Let's just ignore the creepy barn in the background. And, why the fuck don't we get cell phone service out here? Is that a bat I just saw?
So, it's a classic set up to a horror movie. The Roost takes it's time. At only 80 minutes it almost takes too much time. The kids go to the house. They separate. A cop shows up, but he's not as much help as they'd like. And, then there's the barn. What's in the barn? West shows a deft hand at creating a highly stylized world (as he did in House of the Devil). His shots are framed just right. His use of colors is masterful (I'm thinking he's studied his Bava). It almost doesn't matter what's in the barn. Almost. Thankfully, we find out.
While not on the level of Evil Dead, The Roost is probably only a notch or two below. I don't want to spoil anything but let's just say we see the old couple again and they're still hungry. I'm guessing they didn't make it to the buffet. Also, there are bats. Big ones with sharp teeth. The special effects are not the film's strong suit, but luckily West knows when not to go into overkill. He uses them subtly. This thing's more about the characters and slowly building dread anyway. Pay attention and you'll catch the Larry Fessenden (Session 9) cameo. As disappointed as I was with House of the Devil, I didn't expect much from this thing. I'm usually not this thrilled when I'm wrong.