Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ti West's Trigger Man (2007)

Ti West directed, edited, shot, co-produced and wrote Trigger Man (2007) after another production didn't work out. He approached Larry Fessenden, who produced his debut feature-length film, The Roost (2005), with another idea, which West describes as an "experimental horror movie" without any horror conventions like "jump scares." Trigger Man, also, would be a film where the viewer would never see the killers' point of view. West's script was based on a location, one "right behind the house where he grew up" in Delaware. The film was shot in seven days in sequential order with an eighteen-page script with an "inexpensive HD camera that Larry Fessenden owned" with no improvisation from its main three actors who were not professionals. Its story is about three young male friends who reunite in New York City and take a trip out into the woods for hunting. While there, they encounter what looks like an abandoned factory where a sniper has holed up with his sight upon them.
West takes risks with his cinema, as his filmography shows, and often his risk-taking alienates most viewers. Trigger Man flows from the Dogme school of filmmaking and is, more or less, faithful to its manifesto: natural light, organic shooting, primarily handheld, minimal plot and character exposition, and minimal music. Combined with the Dogme influence is West's conscious attempt to make an "experimental" horror film: no foreshadowing, no dramatic music to heighten tension (no attempts, period, to create artificial tension) and no atmospheric flourishes to create foreboding. West's primary artistic tools to create a successful horror film are his compositions, the intimacy that he creates with his viewer with the action, and the sound design by Graham Reznick.West's compositions are excellent. The opening title sequence of Trigger Man with a static shot of a New York skyline at dawn with Reznick's disorienting sound design accompanying the on-screen title appearance gives the film a feel like something out of American cinema in the 1970s. Likewise the initial shots of the interior city streets of New York are shot through a windshield of a moving car, giving the film a gritter feel like a crime flick or Midnight Cowboy. When the three characters unite at the beginning of the film, initially the shooting style already makes the viewer feel as if he/she is in New York and knows these characters. The handheld shooting style with only natural light gives an intimacy to the proceedings like a documentary or a home movie. When the action moves to the Delaware woods, it is a jarring juxtaposition from modern man-made structures to lush greenery. As the predominant color is green, West plays with the shooting of the focus of the foreground and the background in the action. Something innocuous will be in focus in the foreground while the three hunters, with their bright orange hunting vests, move fuzzily in the background. The dramatic action of Trigger Man will be the most divisive aspect of the film for viewers. There is no audience character and there are no attempts to elicit sympathy. The viewer is kept out of the action as an observer. Not only does the documentary-like, Dogme shooting style emphasis this, but also West's script and direction. West attempts to bring his viewer close to the action but not within the characters. Sean (Sean Reid) tells his city buddies, Reggie (Reggie Cunningham) and Ray (Ray Sullivan), that hunting takes patience. Likewise, the viewer is going to have to patient with West's pacing: the viewer is another (yet silent) guest in this hunting party and has to wait, like the hunters, for some action. The quiet moments and the deliberate pacing no doubt emphasize the subsequent intense scenes; and as the film unfolds, Trigger Man becomes quite intense and often quite violent.Trigger Man is set over the course of one hunting day, and occasionally a title card will appear in documentarian fashion revealing the time. It has a stripped-down narrative and accompanying shooting style. West says that sound design is very important in a horror film. Likewise, his use of Graham Reznick's sound design is perhaps his most elaborate. West creates a delicate balance: in attempting to keep the viewer slightly off-balance, West uses odd, unnatural audio cues throughout the film to create a disorienting effect. The audio, at times, doesn't seem to belong in any film and when used, its effective. It has a quality of adding an alien feeling to natural scenery or creating an unnatural feeling in a modern setting, like the factory or the city.Ti West is one of the most interesting young film makers currently working for the sole fact that his cinema is completely against the grain. No doubt, I certainly admire artists who are risk-taking, progressive, and playful like West. West's "experimental horror film" is certainly worth seeing for the curious, and as to whether its a successful experiment, it's up to the viewer. All objective facts about the production within are from a cast and crew Q and A from the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2007 included as a supplement on the Kino DVD of Trigger Man and also from West and Reznick's audio commentary also included upon the disc.


Neil Fulwood said...

Great review, Hans. I know little of Ti West beyond his recent 'House of the Devil'. You really seem to have engaged with his aesthetic. 'Trigger Man' sounds intriguing: kind of like a Dogme version of 'Badlands' or 'Southern Comfort'. I'll be tracking down a copy ASAP.

Hans A. said...

Thnx Neil. I'm really curious as to your thoughts after viewing it. West's certainly a filmmaker on the rise and one to watch.

Neil Fulwood said...

You might have to wait a while for my thoughts on 'Trigger Man'. It only seems to be available as an import for £20 (about $31) and therefore unavailable as a rental. Here's hoping the recent region 2 DVD releases of 'House of the Devil' and 'Cabin Fever 2' will prompt someone to release 'Trigger Man' for the UK market.

Matt-suzaka said...

First off, spot-on review and I appreciate the behind the scenes info. I just finished watching Trigger Man and noticed you reviewed it when searching out more info on the film.

I had heard a lot of negative things about Trigger Man before watching it for myself, and I must admit, despite being a bit alienating with the camerawork early on, it is a refreshing take on a familiar genre. It's incredibly simplistic, but as simple as it is, I still found myself captivated by what was happening and was eager to see where things would end up.

I enjoyed The Roost, but I absolutely love The House of the Devil for just how incredibly tense and quietly paced it is. In Trigger Man, you can really see West honing his ability to draw out tension without resorting to cheap tactics, and for me, he perfects this with House.