Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trigger Man

Three friends take a little day trip to the woods to do a little hunting a drink a little beer. They don't know what the hell they are doing, find themselves a little lost, and wouldn't you know it, it turns out some nutcase sniper is on the loose, hunting the men and picking them off from a distance. Can they escape his sights, or do they have to fight back to survive?

I'd been curious to see some of Ti West's films, as he was the guy they tapped to do Cabin Fever 2 (which is never going to be released, it seems like) and his more recent 80's throwback House of the Devil has been generating some interesting buzz. I checked out The Roost a month or so ago, and thought it was okay enough to give this one a try.

Trigger Man takes some serious risks, but I'm not sure they pay off. I have mixed feelings about it, I admire the film more than I actually enjoyed it or thought it worked.

See, the thing is, almost nothing happens for the first half of the movie. I don't just mean in terms of plot or action. The three men walk, and walk, and walk around the woods for long chunks of time, they exchange dialogue only briefly, maybe they sit around for a while, and then they walk some more. Not quite as extreme as, say, Gus Van Sant's Gerry, but leaning in that direction. This goes on for almost 40 minutes before they are attacked for the first time.

I'm guessing that West is trying to lull the audience into complacency, and maybe he's reaching for a "realistic" or natural feel for the movie. It might have worked if the film established some sort of disquieting, uneasy tone, but West's visual strategy sabotages any chance of that. He chooses to shoot the film in an almost documentary-esque style. Not just the bouncy handheld camera work, but also abrupt zooms in and out many during shots. I assume he was trying to give Trigger Man a sense of immediacy, but it works chiefly as a distraction. I'm a patient guy, not one to become bored easily of slow or deliberately paced movie, but I found the first half of Trigger Man almost completely unengaging.

Naturally, it picks up in the second half when the men are under attack, and the visual strategy finally pays off. The movie is still slow and quiet and features a lot of scenes of people walking around and not talking, but the threat of violence makes the style compelling. It's more interesting watching them walk when you know they might get shot at any time.

I'd be more on board with Trigger Man if the second half of the movie was fucking classic, a genuinely exciting and intense thriller. It would make the first half seem more like build-up and less like filler. The later part is engaging, entertaining and more satisfying, but it's not great. My nails remained unbit and my ass stayed on the back of my seat instead of moving to the edge.

It took balls for West to make a horror film so dependent upon silence and stillness (something I hear he goes for again in House of the Devil, reportedly to greater effect) and I respect that. I bitch a lot about horror movies that skip right to the payoff and aren't willing to take the time to build a moment. Trigger Man is not one of those movies. It is serious about earning its thrills and is committed to its style. And the result is only moderately effective. I give it a pass.

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