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Got to hand it to anyone who knows how to stretch a dollar as far as it can go. Case in point is director Ti West with his minimalist survival thriller TRIGGER MAN.
Shot on what appears to be handheld DV and utilizing actual locations, TRIGGER MAN is a tense slow burn that showcases sparse dialogue and lots of shots of the three main characters (played by Reggie Cunningham, Ray Sullivan and Sean Reid) walking aimlessly through the woods (I wouldn't be surprised, if West and his producers avoided having to pay any fees to shoot at these locations).
The story (supposedly inspired by true events) centers on our trio, named after each actor's first name respectively, who take off from New York City to go hunting. Once they have reached their destination, they find out there's not much game to shoot at and plenty of boredom to endure - not the exciting hunting trip they had imagined. Unfortunately for them, someone else feels the same way, and soon our trio realize they are now the prey to an unseen predator with a long-range rifle.
Told strictly from the trio's perspective, with exception of one scene involving a female jogger (played by Heather Robb), we get a strong sense of their wandering boredom and impending doom. You know something bad is going to happen. You just never know exactly when. This uncertainty plays into the tension that is slowly building until the "shit finally hits the fan"!
I guess it also helps that director West shot the movie himself in the pseudo "cinéma vérité" style, documenting the events, or lack there of. It's as if he were the fourth person included on the trip, whom we never get to see.
Unfortunately, the way that West executes this style almost took me out of the movie - especially with his constant zooming in and out in a haphazard fashion. Given there is no 4th character with our trio, shooting in this style only served to annoy me as a viewer. I kept having flashbacks to 1999's THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT - to this day, I hate that movie.
I don't know what the budget was (FeoNote: $10,000 and shot over 7 days), but I do commend West for coming up with some decent shots & angles that amateur "hack" micro-budget filmmakers don't have the talent and vision to come up with.
I imagine if West and his producers (actor-turned-film entrepreneur Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok) had the budget to shoot this film on beautiful 35 mm (or even Super 16mm) with interesting shots throughout, TRIGGER MAN, potentially could've been an updated throwback to John Boorman's DELIVERANCE (1972) - one of several survival horror films that came to mind, along with PREDATOR (1987), which is actually referenced by name from one of the leads.
Unlike most low budget flicks (of any genre), West wisely keeps the dialogue to an absolute minimum. No mindless chit-chatter or excessive exposition here; just hints of character development. Part of this could be a tactic to hide any potentially embarrassing moments in the performance department, given his actors are not seasoned pros. Whatever the case may be, this "lack-of dialogue" choice was a welcome change from the norm. TRIGGER MAN is most definitely a case where you could turn off all the sound, and you could still follow the story.
Most viewers probably wouldn't tolerate a movie like this. Usually, I wouldn't either with rare cases from exceptional filmmakers. However, seeing that West employed this near "silent movie" style in his follow-up film THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009), clearly he has a knack at keeping me glued to the screen when absolutely nothing is going on. The waiting to see what may (or may not) happen next completely drew me in during both films.
Foreshadowing the story's pacing, the opening establishing shot of an abandoned factory within the woods is a test of wills to sit through, as nothing else appears on-screen for what could be an eternity for the ADD-stricken viewer. But then the old school Title card appears. You know what kind of experience you're in for from that moment onward.
In addition, West also employs the use of chapters between each sequence. Instead of name titles, each chapter shows the actual time of where the characters are at within the story.
If it seems that I'm being vague about the story, it's because I don't wish to give anything away.
Other elements that sold me were the spurts of gore effects done very well by Daniel Mazikowski and the dark, brooding score by Jeff Grace, which at times was reminiscent of Ennio Morricone's eerie score to John Carpenter's THE THING (1982), with it's repeated bass line.
I don't know how Ti West will develop as a filmmaker, but I believe he does have talent with a taste that harkens back to the 70's (my favorite decade of filmmaking) and the early 80's. I am curious to see where his cinematic journey leads him and us who choose to follow his body of work.
With TRIGGER MAN, he earns Three Shriek Girls.
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