The Roost is aimed at horror fans who fondly recall the heyday of drive-in theaters and pot-addled midnight screenings. Directed by Ti West, this über-low-budget pic mines the less-is-more approach carved out by the likes of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and early John Carpenter
The premise is effectively lean. Four young people (Karl Jacob, Sean Reid and real-life siblings Wil and Vanessa Horneff) are on a late-night road trip to a friend's wedding when their car crashes on a lonely country road. Their cellphone dead (damm the luck!), they hike to the nearest farmhouse for help.
Bad move. What our hapless kids don't know is that an elderly couple has just been swallowed up by something lurking inside the barn - something hungry and horrific.
That's it. West devotes only token energy to character development, and he doesn't trouble himself about explanaining where the aforementioned menace came from or why it happens to be at this particular barn in the middle of nowhere. The setup is delightfully simple, but it's enough to offer swarms of bats, flesh-eating zombies and a music score boasting more violins than an Italian hootenanny.
West and cinematographer Eric Robbins create spooky atmospherics through a constant interplay of light and darkness, German expresisonism meets Friday the 13th, with a coal-black country night illuminated only by the bilious glow of yellow porch lamps. The Roost has the unmistakable feel of a feature debut by a film-school student, but its roughly hewn theatrics - shaky handheld camerawork, grainy film stock, shot compositions that seem just a bit too meticulous - work to the movie's advantage.
Moreover, the filmmakers deserve credit for creative thinking, even when the ideas don't work so well. The Roost is bookended by Tom Noonan as the host of a horror movie show on late-night television, but the conceit sounds cleverer than its execution. Such winking postmodern irony seems a trifle gluttonous when killer bats and zombies are already on the menu.
Still, the film's creepy atmospherics don't completely make up for a mighty thin storyline. The lack of even cursory characterization keeps viewers at arm's length; it's tough to care too much whether these kids end up in bat guano. Even raw-nerved B-movie such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made sure audiences had some sort of an emotional investment in its characters.
One final note: The movie owes much to the aesthetic of executive producer Larry Fessenden, who has developed a cult around such films as 1997's Habit and 2001's Wendigo. Fessenden briefly appears in The Roost as an ill-fated paramedic.
Part of what makes The Roost effective is its grainy visual presentation. Such grittiness might be the product of a tight budget, but it also happens to nicely conjure memories of cheapo horror flicks of the 1970s and early '80s. The movie is shown here in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
An English audio track is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. While the former is obviously preferable, it makes only modest use of immersive sound. Volume is inconsistent in several spots; I found myself straining a few times to hear the dialogue.
A nifty bit of supplemental goodness awaits viewers. The centerpiece is A Look Inside The Roost. Featuring lots of raw behind-the-scenes footage, the 31-minute featurette is loosely structured and a bit meandering, but its intimate glimpse at indie filmmaking will fascinate diehard cinephiles. From the shoot to sound mixing to the picture's eventual premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Ti West provides an insider's look at the journey of a young filmmaker. It's interesting to see the level of preparation that goes into even the most seemingly innocuous of stunt work. Oh, and the guy gets props for referencing that God-awful but infectious "Silver Shamrock" jingle from Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
The Truth About Bats is just what the title indicates. This nine-minute, 34-second mini-documentary showcases the bat-centric musings of Earl Tuttle, who founded the Austin, Texas-based Bat Conservation International. Let the myth-shattering begin: Bats are your friend!
Also included is Prey, Ti West's student film. The 10-minute, 35-second movie belies the director's interest in minimal storytelling and penchant for building tension. Two guys are chased in the snow by a ferocious -- and unseen -- creature. Nothing more, nothing less.
Rounding out the extras are a photo gallery and previews for The Reeker and The Curse of El Diablo.
You've seen better low-budget horror flicks, but trust me, you've also seen much, much worse. The Roost hints at the talents of a young filmmaker with a knack for ratcheting up tension without losing a sense of humor.