To paraphrase Kevin Smith's CLERKS, this movie'd be great if it weren't for the fuckin' people.
A 2005 film by writer/director Ti West, produced under the auspices of Larry Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix, THE ROOST begins with an intriguing conceit: that the film is the presentation of a late-night horror show a la Chilly Billy Cardille or Ghoulardi. Bookending the film in grainy black-and-white and featuring MANHUNTER's Tom Noonan as the sinister emcee, this nostalgic touch quickly wears thin by running way too long. Noonan's also much too sedate to be an adequate host, talking in a soft monotone that made me more drowsy than frightened and lacking the cornball gallows humor that made those old shows so endearing.
When the film proper finally gets underway, I was immediately struck by West's stylistic prowess. His color scheme suggests many viewings of SUSPIRIA at an impressionable age, and his use of shadow and natural light during his nighttime exteriors are impressive for a young director. I especially liked how West employed ambient sound and background noise (particularly an ongoing radio show that's never directly acknowledged) to create a plausibly chilling atmosphere. Unfortunately, this technical skill is wasted on the blandest, most personality-barren cast this side of the CW and a story that never gathers quite enough steam.
The set-up--a group of Gen-Y'ers en route to a wedding get waylaid in a car accident and seek refuge at a secluded farmhouse, only to find a horde of bloodthirsty bats roosting in the barn--sounds like fast-paced, pulpy fun. Well, it's certainly not fast-paced (West keeps the pace deliberate, a forgivable offense when generating suspense, but too often it borders on tedium) and his characters take their trite, heard-it-a-million times dialogue much too seriously (most of the conversations sound like acting-class exercises recorded for posterity), taking the lowbrow fun out of its meager CGI effects. Actually, these people take the fun out of the entire film, with their petty backstories and barely-audible confrontations, a group of cyphers so semi-dimensional they're immediately forgotten after the shitty ending.
That's all well and good, you may be thinking, but what about the zombies? Well, the DVD sleeve mentioned them, and I think there are a few, as the bats' victims rise and briefly terrify the remaining survivors. For a second I thought they may have been infected with rabies and transformed into drooling maniacs, though the change is so sudden that it makes about as much sense as bat-bites making people zombies. And if they are in fact zombies, why would you make them such an insignificant part of the story? Why make them a part at all, since there really isn't room for them in a people vs. bats movie.
I'm sure there are answers, but given the film's hip independent pedigree, they're no doubt mired in the same navel-gazing self-absorption that bogged the movie down in the first place. I'm all for welcoming fresh talent into the genre fold, but at least bring something more to the table than a sharp DP.