Directed by Ti West
Distributed by Paramount Home Entertainment
As horror fans we’ve all had those nights. The house is dark and quiet. In the distance we hear the clock strike midnight. Well, I guess most clocks don’t really strike anything anymore as we live in a predominantly digital age, but humor me, okay? Good. Moving on … It’s that magical time of the evening. We turn on our TVs and start hunting around for something to watch. Then we see it. There it is! A horror show is starting, filmed in glorious black and white, with a spooky host. It’s time to grab your pillow, kick back, and enjoy. Unfortunately, the days of the classic horror host seem to be waning. We can only hope to see a resurgence of this dying art form, and the better part of me knows that we will. Hey, bell bottoms came back, didn’t they?
So why am I talking about taking a trip down memory lane when I should be reviewing The Roost? If you have to ask, then you haven’t seen the movie. The Roost is actually a film within a film, and that’s not its only delicious surprise. Buckle up, freaks! We’ve got a live one here!
Things start off with an old TV test pattern complete with an Indian head. After fading to black, a logo appears on the screen for “Frightmare Theatre!” along with a tiny station ID that reads “Channel 13, WDIE TV.” Yep, it’s all here. Thunderclaps and lightning. Bad matte painting backdrops depicting a menacing landscape, all leading up to an old and presumably haunted house. It’s then that our guide appears with a lantern in hand. Meet The Horror Host (Tom Noonan). In true master of feast-ivity fashion, he introduces tonight’s tale. The black and white image fades, and the color red seeps onto the screen. It’s time to hit the gas and speed into some horror-filled hills.
We’re introduced to our intended victims while they are driving to their friend’s wedding. Haggard and super pissed about getting stuck in traffic, our four incessantly bitching protagonists decide to take a shortcut to their destination and avoid the big city gridlock. I swear I will never, fucking ever, take a shortcut anywhere. There’s just too much room for mayhem. But things are going pretty well for our night travelers until suddenly a bat flies directly into the windshield, making the driver lose control of the vehicle. “Oh, hello, Mr. Tree. Thanks for wrecking the car. Right on!” So there they are stranded in the middle of nowhere. Better start walking, folks. Our troupe end up at a seemingly abandoned farm, complete with a sinister multi-level barn. In a perfect world everyone would have just stayed put and waited for help to come by, but hey, this is a horror movie, and that means it’s time for exploration that will lead to a wonderfully horrible demise for each character. YAY!
This is what you want? This is what you get! It turns out the farm is not abandoned but in fact has dozens of tiny winged creatures that call it home. Ladies and gentleman, our big bads for the evening are none other than some hungry bats! I know what you’re thinking. Movies about killer bats hardly ever work. I hear you. “Oh, the boredom of Nightwing! Please no more batty CGI cheese like that Lou Diamond Phillips vehicle, Bats!” Well I’ve got some good news for you, sunshine — The Roost fucking rocks! Rarely do films come along that get just about everything right. This is one of those times.
The wrap-around “Frightmare Theatre!” opening is not the only thing that will make you feel as if you were sucked into a horror time warp. The Roost is near completely void of most modern horror cliches. There’s no quick eMpTyV style editing, barely any bad CGI, no pretty teens that do stupid shit, and no compromises when it comes to delivering the horror hot, bloody, and Seventies style thick. Director Ti West and company have created a dark and grainy indie horror homage that captures not only the essence of horror’s no-holds-barred heyday but the look of it as well. Like Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, The Roost is a film that makes viewers feel as if they should be watching it in an old smokey theatre in Manhattan’s (then peep show laden) Times Square. It’s kind of hard to explain, but if you’re around the right age, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The Roost pulls you in and plays with your senses. There are no long wordy diatribes to be found here; in fact, I’d say at least half of the film is spent in complete silence except for ambient sound and one of the most nerve-jangling scores I have heard in quite some time. We’re talking a massive amount of strings here, man! No digital drum machines or overblown orchestral bullshit. And just when you think things can’t get any more crazed, The Roost throws a curve ball at you by introducing a new menace into the mix to join the bats on their quest for blood. I’m not going to reveal to you what that is even though the back of the box kind of gives it away. My advice is be careful not to read too much about The Roost. Just click the link below to buy it ASAP, and experience it for yourselves.
There is certainly a great deal of good going on here, but the film does suffer a couple of minor shortcomings. Interestingly enough, both happen during the last thirty minutes of the flick. At one point a little past midway through the movie, there’s a bit of an interruption. The Horror Host (he was never named) feels the need to interject and rewind the events a bit in order to put more of a ghastly spin on things. While this was kind of a cool device, it also served to take you somewhat out of the action. There’s that, and the film’s ending is kind of on the abrupt side. In truth, I just wanted more so maybe I’m nitpicking. Well, there’s always the special features, right? Yes and no.
While there are considerably more supplements on the DVD than anyone would expect for such a low budget film, none of them really takes you into what it was like working on The Roost. We get a near half-hour look at some behind-the-scenes raw footage but no real interviews with the cast and the crew. This featurette does end with footage of the film’s opening night in L.A. in which there is some brief coverage of a Q&A panel, but nothing like what one would have hoped for. Again, I just wanted more. Also included is a ten-minute look at The Truth About Bats hosted by Dr. Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International. Some animals have a tendency to be vilified through cinema. Films like Snakes on a Plane, Willard, and Show Girls portray some of our planet’s most precious life forms in the most evil of ways. Kudos to West and company for setting the record straight by including this enlightening and engaging factual account of our winged friends along with the horror. Things get rounded up nicely with the inclusion of a photo gallery and one of West’s early student films, Prey.
Ti West is a director with a future in this business. He’s obviously a true student of the genre, and he wears his love for it proudly on his sleeve. The Roost delivers horror the way it should be: bold, in your face, and unrelenting. It piles the chills up high, and just when you’ve reached the peak, it unmercifully pushes you over the edge and into a dark abyss where your only friend will be the sounds of fluttering wings and tearing flesh.
Dim the lights, crank up the sound, and let’s do the time warp again.
Making-of The Roost featurette
Truth About Bats featurette
Prey a student film by Ti West
4 out of 5