Written, produced, edited, photographed and directed by Ti West, Trigger Man is the sort of psychological thriller that has a certain amount going for it, but runs the risk of not quite finding its audience. It is, above all else, a horror film, only without the conventional trappings of a horror film. With a total run time of 80 minutes, the film spends the first thirty minutes very casually setting things up before it gets going with a sort of pace that most horror fans expect. This can make a for a film that is both a challenge to watch in the beginning--at least for horror fans--and for non-horror fans a challenge to get through once the tension really kicks in.
Inspired by true events, Trigger Man find three friends, Reggie (Reggie Cunningham), Ray, (Ray Sullivan) and Sean (Sean Reid), taking a break from life in New York City to go on a hunting trip in the woods. Their little getaway starts out innocently enough, with both Reggie and Ray becoming bored by the tranquil walk through the forest as they look for deer to kill. Almost nothing is revealed about the three friends, except that they have known each other a long time, and Reggie is having problems with his girlfriend. When the trio takes a break from hunting to kick back a few beers, an unseen sniper blows Sean's head off. Suddenly, Reggie and Ray are running for their lives through the woods. When the sniper takes out Ray, Reggie is left alone to fend for himself, as he desperately tries to stay alive.
Trigger Man starts off with a series of handheld shots, minimal dialog, and a pace that could easily be described as slow. Reminiscent of Kelly Reichardt's 2006 arthouse hit Old Joy, Trigger Man appears in no hurry to go anywhere, which is likely to frustrate/bore some audiences. As it nears the halfway point, the film shifts into a Deliverance-type horror flick that is grounded in a sense of disturbing reality; but even then, it only briefly picks up its pace. The result is a horror move that doesn't always seem suited for fans of the genre who only like things to be cerebral if it involves brains actually being spilled or devoured.
Because of its casual pace, minimalism and unique approach to the genre, Trigger Man is a difficult film to define. It is equal parts horrific thriller and meandering mumblecore drama. And that's not to say that the film is not effective, or not worth watching, but unless you can appreciate both, you might have trouble connecting with West's film. Things are also made difficult by West's handheld cinematography, with its herky-jerky movements and quick zooms in and out. Normally, when people complain about handheld camera work, how it is overwhelming or it makes them nauseous, I don't see what they're talking about. But Trigger Man even got to me at times, which might have been effective once the movie ventured into the horror element, but by that time I was accustomed to the camerawork, and rather than it disturbing me or making me sick, it was mostly annoying.
To be sure, Trigger Man is not a perfect film. But at the same time, it is a film that works. If you can get through the first 30 minutes, you will have found that the wait was worth it, as the film becomes a visceral experience filled with effectively tense moments.
Trigger Man is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen format. The film was shot on digital video, using no artificial light sources, and the result is very impressive. The picture looks great, and the image quality is far better than many other films shot using the same format. The flip side to the solid picture quality is that I wasn't always too fond of the camerawork. The handheld photography was a bit too herky-jerky, and the camera zooms in and out a bit too much. Still, the image looks great.
Trigger Man is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital in English. The film probably has no more than ten or fifteen minutes of dialog, and the music is used fairly sparingly. When a film has this little dialog, the sound design becomes crucial in helping to establish environment and mood. The sound design in Trigger Man is very good, and the audio mix and transfer on the DVD are effectively done.
There is a Q&A session from the LA Film Festival (15 min.) with the cast and crew that is most amusing when director Ti West recounts almost getting arrested while filming. There are two commentaries, one with West and sound designer Graham Reznick, and the other with the principal cast members. Both commentaries are fine, but in all honesty I didn't listen to either of them all the way through. West and Reznick's commentary is the more engaging of the two.
Once you get passed the casually paced beginning, Trigger Man has enough solid moments that it warrants worth watching. If nothing else, it is worth watching to see what can be done with a week's worth of shooting, with very little money, and small crew. To that end, Trigger Man's best audience may be aspiring filmmakers.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]