The Films of Ti West
The House of the Devil (March 27/10)
Set in the 1980s, The House of the Devil follows broke college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) as she agrees to spend the night working as a babysitter for a creepy couple (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov) - with her evening inevitably progressing from dull to deadly. Filmmaker Ti West has infused The House of the Devil with an impressively retro feel that's reflected in everything from its visuals to its deliberate pace to its reliance on old-school special effects, with the atmospheric ambiance initially going a long way towards compensating for the film's less-than-enthralling storyline. And though West effectively peppers the proceedings with a number of suspenseful stand-alone interludes - eg Samantha dances around the enormous house while listening to music on her headphones - there's simply never a point at which the almost distractingly uneventful narrative becomes as compelling as one might've hoped. West's decision to emphasize Samantha's time-killing exploits within the isolated mansion ultimately renders the movie's creepy attributes moot, which is a shame, really, given the strength of Eliot Rockett's sinister cinematography and Donahue's charismatic (yet sporadically self-conscious) performance. One's willingness to indulge West during film's egregiously languid midsection is essentially predicated on the effectiveness of the finale, yet once it becomes clear that the third act - as well as the frustratingly vague conclusion - is as ineffective as everything that preceded it, The House of the Devil has doubtlessly cemented its place as a disappointingly underwhelming horror effort.
Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever
The Innkeepers (January 28/12)
The Innkeepers follows slackers Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) as they prepare to spend their final weekend working at a low-rent hotel, with Luke's insistence that a ghost roams the halls eventually (and inevitably) prompting Claire to launch an investigation of her own. It's interesting to note that, despite the horror-centric bent of the premise, The Innkeepers initially comes off as a subdued (and fairly typical) indie comedy/drama, as filmmaker Ti West generally emphasizes the off-kilter banter between (and quirk-filled exploits of) the protagonists. It's an unusual choice that admittedly does work better than one might've anticipated, and there's little doubt that the immensely likeable nature of the two central characters is heightened by Healy and Paxton's engaging, personable work - with, in particular, Paxton's impressively captivating performance standing as a highlight within the proceedings. The almost excessive deliberateness with which the sparse narrative unfolds is, as a result, initially not too problematic, with the periodic inclusion of distinctly suspenseful interludes - eg Claire hears a piano being played during one of her late-night jaunts - going a long way towards alleviating the decidedly uneventful atmosphere. It's only as the movie lumbers into its progressively uninteresting midsection that one's involvement begins to flag, as West attempts to pad out the film's running time by offering up one lackluster sequence after another - with the pronounced emphasis on Claire's exploration of the hotel lending the proceedings a palpable spinning-its-wheels sort of quality. By the time the incongruously bleak ending rolls around, The Innkeepers has certainly established itself as a half-baked ghost story that probably would've been better off had its horror elements been entirely excised (ie the chemistry between Clair and Luke is just that good).