If I had to pick my top five horror movies of 2009, House Of The Devil would definitely make the cut. While I recognize its flaws and understand why a good number of (completely wrongheaded) horror fans loathed it, I count myself among the film’s legion of admirers. But we’ll talk more about House Of The Devil some other time. Right now I’m only bringing it up so I can point out just how much it fulfilled the expectations raised by director Ti West’s feature debut, The Roost.
Made for next to nothing (“To put it in perspective” explained Ti West, “let’s just say we made it in two weeks for less than a Range Rover.”) and starring nobody in particular, The Roost nevertheless boasts a distinctive look and feel (borrowed from the late 70s) and features naturalistic performances from its young actors (no vacuous underwear model wannabes from the CW here). Best of all, it relies on atmosphere and pacing to create suspense rather than going for quick edits and cheap jump scares.
Sadly, it’s that last part which seems to lose so many modern moviegoers for The Roost. This is the kind of film where characters wander around for long periods of time shining flashlights into dark corners looking for bats, or sit in front of windows for countless minutes until a zombie finally wanders nonchalantly by in the distance, or mostly just stand and stare at doorways waiting for… anything. And it’s great. Unless you don’t have a lot of patience and then it’s boring as all get out. Okay, I’ll admit, there are spots where the movie doesn’t quite work, but for a first feature, it succeeds more often than it fails, and it definitely showcases a newbie director with great potential. And while he’s bound to make a clunker at some point (even Spielberg has his Hook), House Of The Devil makes it abundantly clear that West is fulfilling his potential and moving in the right direction.
Really, what more can we ask? Even our life in Christ is a growth process with ups and downs. As the Catechism notes, “conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal… This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.” Or as St. Paul puts it in this week’s second reading, “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it.” All any of us can do is try to keep moving in the right direction. The audience may boo us sometimes, but God is a pretty fair critic. He’s willing to watch us develop over the long run.