Tuesday, September 3, 2013

THE SACRAMENT: Director Profile: Ti West

Is there anything Ti West can't do? He's a director who's also written, shot, produced, and edited his own movies as well as collaborated on the score for one (2004's The Roost). As an actor, he's appeared in films by Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, and Joe Swanberg (You're Next, Drinking Buddies, All the Light in The Sky, Silver Bullets). The Sacrament is his latest film, and it will premiere as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's Vanguard Programme
In 2004, West made his feature directorial debut with The Roost, which has a classic horror premise. On Halloween night, four teenagers on their way to a friend's wedding manage to get their car stuck in a ditch. They walk to an abandoned farmhouse and run into killer bats, zombies, and in a bit of self-reflexivity, a TV horror host played by Tom Noonan.

2007's Trigger Man, in which three friends go camping in the wilderness only to find themselves stalked by unseen prey, has the vibe of the film Rituals. Even the final shot in the trailer resembles the dam in the underappreciated 1974 Canuxploitation classic..

West's next endeavor, writing, and producing the 2009 sequel to Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, didn't have a happy ending, even for a director whose movies don't traffic in them. He wanted Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever to goin one direction, but the producers had a different idea, so he exited the film, leaving them all of his shot footage.

Fortunately, for Ti West, 2009 also saw the release of his superlative flick The House Of the Devil. A college student needs to make some quick cash in order to put a deposit on an apartment, so she takes an unorthodox babysitting gig in a giant, old house out in the country. If reading the premise gives you a nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach, be warned. The film creates an environment of excruciating tension heightened by quick bursts of terror that is nearly unbearable.

The House of the Devil is set in the 1980s, but as West notes in Interview, "it's not kitschy, video-killed -the-radio-star Eighties. It's brown, feathered hair, wood-paneling Eighties."  Such attention to detail makes it all the more effective.

Would you be interested in film like this? A couple of hotel employees are stuck working the last weekend at a soon-to-be-closed hotel. They kill time trying to prove the existence of the ghosts rumored to haunt the place and are warned against going into the basement by a creepy visitor. Did you answer yes? Then you should see The Innkeepers, West's 2011 film. Of course, the above synopsis doesn't encompass everything that happens. Things do get weirder and scarier from there (this is a Ti West movie, after all).

The 2012 found-footage anthology V/H/S includes a contribution from West. "Second Honeymoon" does what it says on the tin with one exception: someone is following the couple. "Second Honeymoon" transcends the found-footage genre by being both utterly realistic and scary. As a horror hound, I am not ashamed to say that I had to turn on the lights while watching it AND I couldn't sleep after it was over.

The ABCs of Death segment "M is for Miscarriage" was West's next directorial effort in 2012. Although grotesque and interesting, it's too short to successfully establish the aura of dread at which West excels.

This year's Toronto International Film Festival Vanguard Programme features The Sacrament, a movie in which three journalists visit a relative at a religious commune. Eli Roth is the producer, but West has been quick to point out that it's not an Eli Roth Movie. In an Entertainment Weekly interview, West says, "It’s a very confrontational movie and it’s very horrific and it’s very dark. It’s different from what people might expect from me and something different from what people expect from Eli as well.”

Ti West bristles at being pegged as a "horror director." In a genre that is overpopulated by weak narratives, excessive exposition, and no genuine horrors to speak of, this is probably a good thing. "All of the stuff in the film that's not horror is what makes all of the horror stuff work," says West, zeroing in on exactly what distinguishes a boring horror movie from an outstanding movie that also happens to be a horror movie.

He also seems to enjoy exploring the theme of "people in a rural and/or unfamiliar place who are then terrorized by something or someone." This coupled with his remarkable ability to craft slow burn scares through suspense and imagined, briefly glimpsed, or unseen horrors, ensures that The Sacrament will add another thrilling accomplishment to Ti West's oeuvre.

THE SACRAMENT Screening Times:
Sunday, Sept 8th, 5:15 PM THE BLOOR HOT DOCS CINEMA
Tuesday, Sept 10th, 9:45 PM SCOTIABANK 7
Friday, Sept 13th, 8:45 PM SCOTIABANK 3

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