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THE ROOST

This indie horror fest went largely unseen during its brief 2005 theatrical release, but is finding an appreciative audience on DVD.  That’s a positive development, as it’s a skilled, scary and all-around good time! 

The Package 
     Horror buffs will recognize the name of Larry Fessenden, this 2004 film’s executive producer.  An award-winning maker of low-budget horror fare like NO TELLING and HABIT, the New York-based Fessenden, through his company Glass Eye Pix, has recently taken to producing flicks by other filmmakers.  Not all of them live up to the high standards set by Fessenden’s own films (such as the sci fier AUTOMATONS, which despite positive reviews isn’t much). 
     THE ROOST was one of the first, and very likely the best, of Fessenden’s non-directed productions.  It was the feature debut of the talented Ti West, who prior to making it worked as a T-shirt salesmen...and went on to direct 2007’s impressive TRIGGER MAN, which is now available on DVD.

The Story
     Several dopey teenagers are driving in the dead of night, but are driven off the road by a flying something.  Finding themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere, the teens set off to find help.  Their first stop is a deserted farmhouse, where an elderly couple was just killed by some unseen menace!
     The kids split up.  A couple of them enter the barn and promptly disappear.  Prowling the highway, two of the guys flag down a passing cop, and he agrees to search the area for their missing friends. 
     The cop ends up dead, leaving the kids to creep around like idiots...with unseen creatures tracking their every move.  To make things worse, there’s a roost of malevolent bats in the barn.  But then the cop’s corpse inexplicably disappears--and abruptly turns back up as a flesh-eating zombie!
     Shortly thereafter another member of the group is found dead and the elderly couple who occupied the house become shuffling zombies.  Before the night is through there are more killings, of course, and more zombies--and more zombie killings.  And keep an eye out for those deadly bats!  But the real menace is offscreen: an irritating TV host who introduces, concludes and insists upon interrupting the action to remind us it’s all part of a TV program! 

The Direction 
     THE ROOST is intriguing largely for the fact that it shouldn’t play as well as it does.  Matter of fact, it probably shouldn’t work at all, seeing as how it’s a cliché fest that relies largely upon cheap shocks.  The narrative, involving a bunch of young folks stranded by a broken-down car, is quite literally a succession of timeworn clichés, while the characters are all empty-headed automatons who exist only to be picked off.
     Yet despite all that the film is an extremely accomplished piece of work.  Ti West eschews the show-offy camerawork and hyper-editing of most modern horror flicks (the low budget likely wouldn’t have permitted for those things anyway) in favor of tightly controlled Hitchcockian tracking shots.  The effect is similar to that of the original HALLOWEEN, complete with several noisy jolts of the type that usually annoy me in horror movies.  Here, though, the jolts are pulled off with such skilled precision they actually work.  Plus the cinematography is superb in the way it bathes each scene in pointed snatches of light amidst a palette of otherwise utter darkness. 
     The only real sore spots for me were the annoying wraparound sections with Tom Noonan as a Zachary-esque TV host that open and close--and at one point interrupt--the film.  These segments were shot in black and white, and were intended, apparently, to lend an extra dimension.  But the Noonan bits are poorly paced and tacky, and make for an awkward fit with the main body of the film.  Even worse, they directly recall the smarmy self-awareness of the SCREAM flicks--although I will concede that the wraparound concludes with a satisfying jolt. 


Vital Statistics 

THE ROOST
Glass Eye Pix

Director/Screenplay/Editor: Ti West
Producer: Susan Leiber
Cinematography: Eric Robbins
Cast: Tom Noonan, Will Horneff, Karl Jacob, Vanessa Horneff, Sean Reid, John Speredakos, Barbara Wilhide, Richard Little, Larry Fessenden


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