Judge David Johnson has a bat in his belfry. His name is Craig.
Lots of bats and no Lou Diamond Phillips.
Can a film about four stupid friends menaced by killer vampire bats seriously be any good? Why yes. Yes, it can.
Facts of the Case
While driving through the middle of nowhere in the dead of night, four pals come face to face with a crazy-ass bat, which leads to a small car accident and an evening of hoofing it. Siblings Elliot (Will Horneff) and Allison (Vanessa Horneff) lead their band to an abandoned farmhouse, where they hope to find help for their disabled vehicle. But something's off. Though obviously lived in, the house is empty.
Their questions are soon answered when a gaggle of vicious vampire bats come pouring from the barn, killing with frightening efficiency and holding the power to somehow convert its victims into mumbling, bumbling zombies.
Now, the quartet will have to survive the night, as the winged horde descends upon them and they are forced to defend themselves from the marauding advances of hapless, undead-ified bloodsuckers.
The Roost doesn't sound like a good movie, but, surprisingly, it is. In fact, it's one of the better creature features I've seen in a while, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for some effective scare-mongering on Halloween. Ti West has crafted a simple throwback to claustrophobic monster terror, and while there isn't anything here that you haven't seen before in some other incarnation, the genre standards are executed with skill and zest.
This is one of those movies that just "works." It's got that pleasant intangibility to it, a confluence of writing, scoring, shooting style, makeup and acting that total a satisfying film experience. The characters are straightforward and realistic, played in reserved fashion by the actors, yet still manage to evoke enough sympathy so that they're not just meatbags to get obliterated by the film's token killer. The music is a threadbare, fast-moving string composition that totally fits the feel of the film and goes a long way in generating suspense. The gore effects, while sparse and not gratuitous, are suitably messy when they appear; and West's directing hits the right note with respect to the film's cramped, nostalgic tone. Even the visual effects-augmented bats, while corny in some scenes, work. This is a film made up of pieces that fit snugly together.
West makes a good decision to keep the bats from making their grand entrance until about a third of the way through the film. While that decision sounds like it could make you antsy, I don't think you'll notice. The pervading atmosphere of dread should be enough to keep you engaged. And even when the bats start getting jiggy with it, you only see them in brief dark, flashes (probably because of the limited CGI budget). It doesn't make a difference—they're only bats, not some exotic creature. The real terror is generated by the after effects of the bat assaults, specifically the zombie offspring that arise from their bites. We never learn why this phenomenon happens, but nothing is really explained in this film. The way it's set up is you're just watching these horrible events happened to some unsuspecting victims and wondering how each will get his or her comeuppance.
Finally, there was an interesting element to this film that I'm not sure how I feel about. The action is bookended by scenes with a pale, bald guy called the "Horror Host," played by Tom Noonan, who acts as the host of a pulpy creature feature presentation. On one hand, these scenes took me out of the bat action, but on the other, their inclusion was just weird enough to give the film as a whole a unique spice. I think I like it, though the finale was too out there.
The Roost is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, besieged with grain. I'm pretty certain the crappy quality is a stylistic choice by the director, and it does bolster the film, though it can be a tad excessive at times. The 5.1 surround is well used. Two featurettes—a nice, lengthy making-of documentary and a fairly lame feature called "The Truth About Bats"—accompany West's 10-minute student film and a photo gallery in the bonus bin.
Nice movie. I like it. For some enjoyable scares you could do a lot worse. The end.
I'm guano let you go. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Making-of Featurette
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