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Film

Ti West: America’s most undervalued horror innovator

@Russellisation

In the contemporary horror revival, several directors can be credited with helping to refresh the genre, from American filmmakers Ari Aster and Jordan Peele to international innovators Jennifer Kent and Julia Ducournau. Thanks to such films as Hereditary, Get Out, The Babadook and Titane, the horror genre has gained greater respect in recent years for taking on its contemporary narratives with a more forthright approach. 

Omitted from such conversations is the work of American filmmaker Ti West, a writer and director who rose to prominence at the turn of the new century with low-budget, low-quality horror fodder, including The Roost, Trigger Man and Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. Sandwiched in-between these somewhat compulsory industry stepping stones was 2009’s The House of the Devil, a distinctive, eccentric modern question mark. 

Appearing merely as a run-of-the-mill ’00s horror film, starring few discernible stars aside from the surprise appearance of the not yet famous Greta Gerwig, The House of the Devil held one idiosyncratic surprise. Appearing as if it was a product of the 1980s, Ti West had not just flippantly supplied his cast with costumes from the era, the filmmaker had created a loving homage to the ‘satanic panic’ of the 1980s, recreating the style of the era using 16mm film and meticulous attention to detail. 

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Paying tribute to the likes of The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Ti West’s first major cinematic success placed the filmmaker in a position of genuine influence in the genre. His love for horror became self-evident from the effort he spent bringing The House of the Devil to life. Paying homage to the era whilst toying with its sheer structure and identity, West’s film remains one of the most unconventional horror films of the 21st century. 

Two years later, West once again put his genre skills to the test, creating The Innkeepers on a budget of just $750,000, advertising the flick as a ‘ghost story for the minimum wage’ as his obsession with innovation and experimentation continued. Taking a slow, methodical approach to horror, his 2011 film didn’t capture the wonder of The House of the Devil, though he still took steps forwards by taking his time to probe just why a particular moment was so chilling before moving on with the story. 

Whilst horror cinema shifted in the 2010s to embrace possession and exorcism tales, West preoccupied himself elsewhere, becoming of ten directors to bring V/H/S to life in 2012 to the delight of genre fans, followed by The Sacrament in 2013 that aimed the very real terrors of organised cults. Taking hold of one of the most impressive segments of the anthology film V/H/S that itself was wrapped up with its own love of horror and the mystery and disturbing blank videotapes, West left genre filmmaking after 2013, only to announce his return almost a decade later. 

Simply titled X, West’s latest film takes place in 1979 and once again pays homage to the history of cinema, this time looking at the adult movie industry that gained momentum at the end of the 20th century. Picked up by A24, the new film follows a group of young filmmakers who set out to make a porn film in rural Texas, only for some strange locals to treat their presence with peculiar hostility. 

Comparing modern horror to porn during his press tour for House of the Devil, West told Interview Magazine, “Horror is really unfortunate now. It’s like porn,” before adding, “It becomes just one kill or cum-shot after another. Mainstream horror is only about titillation”. 

Believing horror has lost that “real life” aspect, for Ti West there is no better company to collaborate with as A24 has long brought a brutal reality back to horror, with the likes of Hereditary, The Witch and Saint Maud each telling human stories of love, loss and loneliness that underline the spectacle of terror. 

Arriving in cinemas on March 18th, don’t expect Ti West’s X to abide by horror movie standards, after all, he’s not used to playing by the rulebook.