Trigger Man

An earlier post on Ti West's excellent The House of the Devil lead the cryptic emailer mentioned in that post to recommend West's previous film, the ultra-low-budget Trigger Man. It's an interesting little film, mostly because it is essentially a concentrated version of what some people really hated about The House of the Devil.

Like, House of the Devil, the plot of this film is easily summarized: three buddies head out to the woods for a relaxing hunting trip. With a title like Trigger Man and three apparently inexperienced young guys with guns, it played out almost exactly as I expected. But not right away.
Trigger Man
I suppose there are some who'd say that the first half of the film is a bit dull, and there's probably something to that. The film is certainly slow. But there's also something effective about being lulled into a sense of security that this film exploits. At one point maybe 20 minutes or so into the movie, after our heroes have been quietly walking through the woods for a while, one of the characters hefts his rifle and pans around the area... and spies a doe! Never has a female deer been so menacing.

I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that the deer does not shoot back at our hero, but there's no way that sequence would have carried the weight it did if we hadn't spent the previous 20 minutes trudging silently through the landscape, building atmosphere with every step. As someone who has been deer hunting myself, this movie actually does capture that sort of excitement that can only come after spending a morning waiting for something (anything!) to cross your path. After a while, even a squirrel can be exciting.

Of course, that's not all this film has to offer, and while I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, I did find myself startled when it actually did happen. From that point on, I found myself surprisingly off balance, even when West reverts the film back into quiet nature walk mode (only to jolt me out of my reestablished reverie, I should add). There is even that horror staple of gratuitous gore at one point, but that sort of thing works much better in a movie like this than it does in a lot of other schlock-fests (though I do have a soft spot for slashers, for some unfathomable reason). Later in the film, an eerie abandoned factory makes an appearance, and West takes ample advantage of the strange shadows thrown by overpasses.

This is pretty clearly a low-budget film, and at times I did find myself wondering if the stylistic choices were done for artistic reasons, or because of technical limitations (or, as is sometimes happily the case, both). For instance, the film does have a distinct vérité feel. West never goes all Greengrass on us, but a handheld camera is clearly used for most of the shots. This does sorta put the viewer in the position of voyeur, as if if we're actually there, following the characters with a camera (but without the whole found-footage conceit). Indeed, there are numerous shots from behind, following characters as they move. I would be curious what choices West would have made if he had more of a budget.

The DVD had a Q&A session with West, cast, and crew, and one of the things that really surprised me was that he says almost none of the film is improvised. The film only has about 20 lines of dialogue, and most of it is pretty simple banter between the three leads (I thought for sure that the Predator reference was an improvisation). After finishing the movie, I contemplated whether it would have made for a good silent film (the concept of a modern-day silent film intrigues me) - and I think it would, so long as you could leave the sound of gunshots and maybe the babbling water of the creek.

Ultimately, while I enjoyed the film and found it satisfying, I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone but the most strident fans of West or slow burning horror (i.e. people who think The House of the Devil is for speed junkies). Perhaps being immersed in the hustle and bustle of teh internets primed me for spending some down time following some doomed hunters as they trekked through an eerie environment. I guess it's not a film I see myself popping in all the time... It's a wonderful experiment, and I enjoyed it on that level, but it certainly has its flaws. In any case, I guess this means I should check out The Roost (which, I have to say, seems like it would be very different from the other two West movies I've seen).