I’ve come to known Ti West mostly for the success he’s achieved in the horror genre with his last two films, The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. The two films, with varying execution and different degrees of success, are slow-burning horror films, reminiscent of a time where horror meant pacing and atmosphere and not blood and guts.
Trigger Man, West’s 2007 effort, isn’t his first film, but you can certainly see the building blocks West would step right up on in the years to come, crafting his technique and style step by step.
In fact, Trigger Man is so crudely made that the film resembles something a group of college students might present in a basic video production class (like the short film my class partner and I made a few years ago). But if you look close enough, you realize that the jerky camera movement, blurred vision and all-around amateur style of West’s film is in fact a tactic, not a shortcoming.
Trigger Man, which is said to be inspired by real events, follows three friends who leave the city to go hunting. The friends, struggling to find a buck to put a bullet into, soon find themselves to be the prey of a distanced sniper.
The story sounds straight out of fiction (The Most Dangerous Game, anyone?), but with the belief that is actually is based on true events, and West’s realistic direction, it’s easy enough to believe. The thing is, West’s film is not carried far by its three characters. Dialogue between the three is at a minimum. In fact, I don’t even remember the names of the three friends or much about them. I just know one looked like he should be watching a Disco Biscuits crowd and the other a punk rock show. But this is okay.
West instead drives his film with a slow, creeping pacing, something he’d master in The House of the Devil, and an uncompromising sense of dread and helplessness. There were parts of the film’s first half that left me waiting for this eventual sniper to show up and take a shot at the boys, which actually helped increase tension. You’re saying to yourself: I know someone is going to be trying to kill these fellas, but when? For instance, there is a brilliant scene where one friend straggles behind and begins to line up his gun, looking for anything. He spots a deer. The whole time you’re waiting and waiting for a bullet to be plunged into his neck.
The film’s second half is wonderful. West films it in a dizzying style, which has me dashing back to my point before about some of this looking amateur. But that’s a face value way to look at the way West frames the panic, fear and dread the men under fire are fearing. He blurs his framing, moves quickly and travels in a jerky motion to unsettle us the same way the men in danger are. It isn’t the prettiest cinematography and it won’t dazzle any eyes with beauty or awe, but it absolutely fits the bill given the simple terror of the film.
I personally think Ti West is at the top of horror filmmaking right now. His last two efforts were beyond great. Trigger Man is an opportunity to watch a much younger and more inexperienced West perfect his craft in a simple and absolutely entertaining way. It’s a quiet and imperfect film, mum on the words, but its low-brow style should capture the minds of most, especially those wishing to see how West built the stages of his career.