Friday Night, Ti West Films Featured at 2014 Diabolique Film Festival

“Jonestown” was the informal name for the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project formed by the Peoples Temple, an American religious organization under the leadership of Jim Jones, in northwestern Guyana.  It became internationally notorious when on November 18, 1978, 918 people died in the settlement, at the nearby airstrip in Port Kaituma, and in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city.  The name of the settlement became synonymous with the incidents at those locations.  (Wikipedia)

Ti West is a master of subtle horror, according to the introduction of the first of three of his films shown Friday night, with films that start quietly and let the suspense build.  Others in fact, judging from several reviews I’ve run across on Amazon, may feel that the suspense sometimes builds too slowly.  Be that as it may, the latest, chronologically,  of the three filmssacrament_left shown, THE SACRAMENT (2014), was a good introduction to the concept.  Based on 1978’s Jonestown Massacre in which a religious utopia gone bad ended up with shootings and an ultimate mass murder/suicide via cyanide-laced Kool Aid, THE SACRAMENT brings the tragedy into the present, as seen through the lens of entertainment journalism.

So, in effect, we “know” what will happen, at least in broad detail.  In this retelling, a news team accompanies a man to the tropical “Eden Parish” to document his reunion with his sister, a member of the cult run by a man called “the Father.”   Somewhat as in last night’s “Proxy,” the visit starts off on a positive note — but a few things seem just a little bit off.  And, as interviews (including one with the Father himself) and observations progress, the bad details build until they overpower the good.

The second film, THE INNKEEPERS (2011), following a skeleton crew of two hapless desk clerks at a hotel slated to close down in a few days, uses the same technique of starting offInnkeepers_right with things seemingly normal — although  “innkeepers” Claire and Luke are a bit goofy, determining to use ghost hunting techniques in a final effort to test the tradition that the  hotel is haunted — then slowly bringing anomalies in.  It is also the only one of the three to use humor well as a tension-breaker (my favorite, Clair’s faux pas that causes hotel guest “angry mother” to give up and return home with her son to her husband).  And by the end, in part through an effective, albeit in danger of becoming heavy handed use of music along with a handful of well-placed ghostly “jump” sequences, it has become truly terrifying.

In my opinion, THE INNKEEPERS is the most successful of the three — enough so that I’m considering getting it on DVD to be able to watch it few times more — in part, I think, because the main characters are genuinely likeable.  I felt I could invest myself in them, especially Claire, and really cared whether they came out okay.  During the Q and A, one person did point out that Claire’s going into the basement toward the end (just after being thoroughly frightened and wanting to leave the hotel altogether) seemed a bit forced, which West countered by noting it’s only after a series of hesitations and that there’s also an air of predestination by then, that things will play out regardless of efforts to try to prevent them.  Then one last note by me, watch for a final “manifestation” just before the film cuts to the credits.

The third and earliest film, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009), was, in my opinion, the least successful, showing perhaps crudely the techniques that would be better perfected two years later.  This one concerns a college girl on a babysitting gig at a remotely located home — except that there isn’t any baby.  There is an old woman the student HouseDevil_leftshould be there for instead, and we know from the start there are intimations of satanic cults.  Also, early, we get the first anomalous happening, concerning a call made to a pay phone, and maybe half way through at most, another “bad thing” (concerning the student’s girl friend) that lets us know right then that things won’t end well.  Yet there is, again, the “building up” pattern, in this case with the babysitter exploring the house, but even though a few clues are uncovered, much of it seemed to me to be just aimless wandering.

It is a good film, mind you, even if crude (more heavy handed, for instance, in its use of music), and it’s kind of neat the way an impending lunar eclipse is used as a motif (also bad pizza — and look for the two combined in a scene early on).  There’s not a speck of humor, on the other hand.  All in all I’d have to call it interesting — and well worth a viewing —  but not a keeper.

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  1. Your descriptions are so well done — I want to get “The Innkeepers” for sure. Maybe on Netflix?

  2. THE INNKEEPERS is a good, fun film with (at least on first viewing, in spite of the fact you may have an idea of some of what’s going on) a good worthwhile payoff. I recommend it!




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