NEW YORK TIMES - By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
Sometimes in the
Woods, Hunters Become the Hunted
Devised for minimum fuss and maximum tension, “Trigger Man"
is the little thriller that could. Claiming inspiration from actual
events, this smartly written sophomore feature from the young director
Ti West -whose debut, “The Roost," exhibited a similar
disdain for excess - begins at a dawdle and ends at full gallop. Only
the patient will be rewarded.
Unfolding during a single day, “Trigger Man" follows three
New York friends on a first hunting trip to the woods of Wilmington,
Del. For the opening 40 minutes, the movie simply allows us
to tag along as the men, wearing orange safety vests and carrying
rented rifles, search inexpertly for deer and converse in the shorthand
of longtime pals. (“So she's got you smoking again?") As
jumpy as a stalker, the camera skulks behind, sneaking close and pulling
back so abruptly that you would think that the hunters themselves
were the prey. Uh-oh.
The economy of Mr. West's filmmaking (he also wrote, shot and edited
the movie) demands an uncluttered soundtrack: for long stretches we
hear nothing but birdsong and rustling leaves. When violence occurs
- with jolting swiftness - the director maintains his composure, staging
his steel-trap finale in the eerie emptiness of an abandoned factory
complex. It will be interesting to see if this reserve survives the
increased pressures and budget of his current project, “Cabin
LOS ANGELES TIMES by Mark Olsen
'Trigger' happy and drama hungry
With a setup that calls to mind "Deliverance" and "Old Joy,"
"Trigger Man" opens with three friends, urban hipoisie all, getting
together for a weekend hunting trip to celebrate the impending marriage
of one of their own. None of them seems to be particularly adept as outdoorsmen;
they seem to simply like the way toting a gun around the woods goes with
their beer-drinking, tattoo-wearing self-image. Once a certain underlying
tension among the trio has been established, it's no spoiler to say things
start to go very wrong in a hurry, and they are soon plunged into a nightmare
scenario beyond their imagining.
Written and directed by Ti West and executive produced by longtime indie-horror
stalwart Larry Fessenden, "Trigger Man" far too quickly leaves
behind its human drama in favor of pure adrenalized terror, sending its
characters on the run in a dense forest. The suspense the film does elicit
is rather remarkable, in that West often does create something out of nothing,
leaving the what, why and how of unfolding events largely unexplained. A
guy crouched by a tree can be scarier than you think. Any emotional or psychological
undercurrents, however, are offhandedly swept aside, making the film, even
at a brisk 80 minutes, seem rather hollow.
by Maitland McDonagh
Writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor Ti West's ultra low-budget
follow-up to his debut feature, THE ROOST (2005), is a stripped-down story
of hunters who become the hunted.
Scruffy New York City pals Reggie (Reggie Cunningham), Sean (Sean Reid)
and Ray (Ray Sullivan) get together for a day-long hunting trip in Delaware,
though it quickly becomes clear that only Sean knows anything about hunting.
The outing is basically an excuse for them to get away from their girlfriends
and drink beer in the great outdoors. Sean supplies the guns — bolt-action
rifles with scopes — walks them through weapons-handling 101, hands
them their orange safety vests and leads the way through the woods. There's
some ribbing and a lot of walking; Reggie actually spots a deer, but fails
to take a shot — that's the cue to break out the beer and rehash the
nonevent. And then Sean strolls over to a cliff to urinate and drops, nailed
by a bullet between the eyes. What began as a lazy day of slacking in the
woods becomes a desperate fight for survival that pits a pair of woefully
unprepared city boys against a sociopathic sharpshooter.
Much of the film unfolds in real time, and for the first half hour West
makes the nervy decision to show what hunting is really like: a lot of standing
around and waiting. He also shoots long sequences without dialogue, letting
the sound of running water and rustling branches dominate the soundtrack.
But stick with it: Once the story goes DELIVERANCE (1972), it's a nail-biter,
and the minimalist aesthetic is an asset rather than a liability —
the handheld follows shots that lend a you-are-there authenticity. The film
is all panicky anxiety and no frills, right down to the grim, 11th-hour
cameo appearance by indie filmmaker Larry Fessenden (HABIT, THE LAST WINTER),
who served as producer.
NEW YORK SUN by S. James Snyder
October 17, 2007
West Sees the Forest
for the Trees
Regardless of what audiences may think of the opening hour, director Ti
West dishes out a genuinely terrifying payoff in the final 20 minutes of
"Trigger Man," stringing together three heart-stopping moments
that coalesce into a fascinating, frantic release of tension. The best of
these moments involves little more than a female jogger as she runs through
the woods, up to the edge of a cliff, and stops to stretch in the midday
sun. The camera pans back and forth, watching her stretch. In this most
mundane of moments, the hair on the back of your neck stands to attention
as you wait for some unknown menace — maybe God himself — to
swipe in and destroy her.
Stealing in parts from Gus Van Sant's "Gerry" and John Boorman's
"Deliverance," Mr. West gleefully inverts the explicit, shock-a-minute
formula that has rendered so many recent commercial horror films dead on
arrival and turns those overt tricks into an oblique test of patience, a
silent form of existential dread.
As a showman, Mr. West is keenly adept at reversing audience expectations
from the very first frame. With a title like "Trigger Man," and
boasting the name of a director already known among horror fans for his
B-horror tribute, "The Roost," Mr. West seems determined early
on to go against the grain and string his fans along, avoiding any hint
of violence or danger for more than half the film. Instead, as the minutes
creep, we watch a trio of young New York City men — played by Reggie
Cunningham, Ray Sullivan, and Sean Reid — leave for the countryside,
setting off on foot with hunting rifles in tow and itchy trigger fingers.
It almost seems a cruel joke on Mr. West's part to offer us these men and
these guns, in a movie with this title, and to then bring the conventional
narrative to a halt. As they hoof it through the woods, all notions of dialogue
or drama evaporate, and we find ourselves suddenly in the land of "Gerry"
— Mr. Van Sant's 2002 antinarrative that featured two men lost in
the desert, walking for miles and miles without a word between them. Replace
the desert with the forest and you have "Trigger Man": a movie
that sits us down with two bored hunters, staring out into the forest with
nothing to do.
Yet the farther these bored would-be hunters walk, the more effectively
Mr. West draws us away from the movie's opening shot of a glimmering Manhattan
skyline. Moving away from the city, away from the car, and increasingly
away from one another, the men routinely pick up their rifles to look through
their scopes, desperate to see anything through their shaky, quivering crosshairs.
And then, before we have time to realize what's happening, Mr. West's camera
has adopted the same shaky quality as it pans from man to man and looks
down at them from afar, as if they're being watched through a scope. Without
words and without a discernable story, the aesthetics come to the fore —
every noise, every shift of perspective, every editing cut becoming a momentous
The end begins with a whimper. One silenced gun shot sends the men panicking,
then a few more rounds leave one of them abandoned and raging, and his encounter
with a female jogger turns a convulsing urbanite into a chiseled, crazed
When a film abandons conventions to this degree, it risks alienating dogmatic
horror buffs. But Mr. West proves courageous in the way he seemingly abandons
any notion of story, making the mystery here not when the killer will strike
— à la "Saw," "Halloween," etc. —
but who the killer is, why he has chosen this day and this forest, and where
his lines of sight lie.
More than anything, the movie is a marvel of sound design and spatial dynamics.
Out in the woods, as two bored friends waste the hours (the movie is structured
with time markers, much like "The Shining," which impart a real-time
feel), it is Graham Reznick's sound mixing that orchestrates the tension,
the static sounds of nature mixing with meticulously manipulated ambient
noise and hypnotic musical variations. With similar craftiness, as the action
shifts from the car to the forest, the cliff, and eventually an abandoned
factory, Mr. West seamlessly choreographs the action to progress from dense
foliage to dangerous, rugged terrain, to dark corners shrouded in shadows
and — most creepy of all — flat, grassy openings that can be
seen from those out-of-place buildings in the distance.
Produced by Larry Fessenden, whose own recent film "The Last Winter"
amounted to a story about Mother Earth lashing out against the oil plunderers
of the arctic, "Trigger Man" is intrigued by similar themes. Having
left the glimmering city, where the hunters buy cigarettes at the local
deli and argue with girlfriends, they are clearly ill prepared for the dangers
of the wild. The silent suspense that envelops their story seems to position
these three, and their insignificant weapons, against the vastness of the
impenetrable forest. True, the real danger out there somewhere is a man,
but as orchestrated here, Mr. West makes the rustling leaves, the gurgling
water, and the chirping insects the harbingers of an omnipresent evil. Forget
the fake blood — green is the color to fear.
SALON, By Andrew O'Hehir
A few weeks ago, I praised
Larry Fessenden's terrific little global-warming horror flick "The
Last Winter" as the harbinger of a longed-for new wave in horror, setting
us free from the grotesquerie of the "Saw" and "Hostel"
series and similar ventures. OK, so viewers haven't exactly flocked to "The
Last Winter" in overwhelming numbers, but I'll keep the flame burning.
Fessenden is the executive producer of Ti West's lean and mean "Trigger
Man," a nearly dialogue-free expedition into the woods with a trio
of slacker-ish hunting buddies who become the quarry of unknown assailants.
"Trigger Man" is a tense little production whose budget probably
makes "The Last Winter" look like "Waterworld," but
it's undeniably effective. There are a handful of gruesome effects but no
torture or sadism; most of West's film simply follows our trio of hapless
hunters through the sun-dappled Delaware forest, using music and unsettling
point-of-view shots to emphasize the possibility that they're not alone.
Explanation, exposition and character development are at or near zero, but
an atmosphere of dread is built effectively and West's technique is strong.
If you're inclined to think that Kelly Reichardt's indie-world fave "Old
Joy" could have been improved with some splatter and random shootings
to go along with the existential uncertainty, this is your movie.
AINT IT COOL NEWS by Ghostboy
Long time, zero communique. I've been off working on the other side of the
movie screen as of late, but I wanted to drop by today to mention a new
film that's opening this week, one that's worth a closer look amidst this
autumn rush. The picture is Trigger Man, directed by Ti West, and of all
the horror films opening in the next few weeks, this is the one to catch.
Some of you may have seen West's debut feature a few years back - a grainy,
rollicking little funhouse ride entitled The Roost - and his next film,
due sometime next year, is Cabin Fever 2. While this work ostensibly belongs
to the same genre, it confronts and shatters the conventions of the horror
film with such cold precision that audiences expecting another splatterfest
may well be confounded. Make no mistake: Trigger Man is definitely a thriller,
but those thrills come from a more esoteric and cerebral place than, say,
the latest installment of Saw or whatever other Halloween offerings we have
in store. It's a refreshing change of pace.
The films is purportedly based on a true story - one whose rich history
goes all the way back to The Most Dangerous Game. Three friends venture
into the Delaware woodlands for an ill advised hunting trip. They drink
some beer and load their guns and wander into the forest. They walk. And
walk. Occasionally engaging in banal chatter but mostly just trudging forward
in silence. Getting deeper and deeper into the brush. And then, just when
that silence has reached its peak, a gunshot echoes through the trees, a
burst of blood explodes in the afternoon sun, and..
....well, this is where most films would follow the 'all hell breaks loose'
rule of thumb, but West has something different in mind. As the would-be
hunters realize that they're (of course) the ones being hunted, as their
numbers gradually begin to drop, West twists the ennui of the first half
of the film into a taught, numbing sense of dread. He never loses his patience,
never gives in to the easy scares. He draws the tension out to the breaking
point, and then pushes it even further. There's a certain shot near the
end of the film, leading up to the climax, that seems last for nearly ten
minutes. Almost nothing happens in it, and in its uneventfulness, it distills
the elements of the chase scene to its primal ingredients. It goes from
unbearably tense to unbearably boring to unbearably tense,
With its minimalist approach and unaffected naturalism, (not to mention
its digital cinematography and the fact that premiered at SXSW in Austin
this past spring), one might say that this is the first Mumblecore horror
movie (a reference to the circle of twentysomething filmmakers whose work
and collective aesthetic has emerged from the festival circuit and into
the mainstream over the past few months). But it's also got a more refined
pedigree that recalls recent independent masterpieces like Old Joy and Gerry.
And, too, it brings to mind nothing less than the work of filmmakers like
Antonioni or, even moreso, Tarkovsky. Trigger Man<,/i> is an experiment
is sculpting in time - with explosions of brain matter serving as periodic
- Robert Koehler, June 30, 07
the hunted in Ti West's smartly compact and radical survival thriller,
"Trigger Man." As distinct from his smart horror debut,
"The Roost," as it surely is from his in-the-works studio
debut, "Cabin Fever 2," West's pic grafts anti-narrative
cinema conventions -- sustained real-time shooting and disdain for
overt plot -- onto an action-adventure template. Results are so pared
to the bone that the swift ending comes as a shock, and then, in retrospect,
as just the right exit. Fine fest tour should broaden to non-U.S.
shores, while crafty distribs could find B.O. targets in specialized
hunts and focused vid volleys.
After a portentous opening shot of the New York skyline, Gotham buddies
Reggie (Reggie Cunningham), Ray (Ray Sullivan) and Sean (Sean Reid)
pile into an SUV for a hunting trip. Right off the bat, the film is
invested less in Reggie's apparent problems with a needy (off-screen)
g.f. than the sheer ecstasy of leaving the city behind for the sun-dappled
splendors and vast silences of the forest.
West pointedly observes that the guys aren't exactly Thoreaus when
it comes to venturing into nature; when they're not teasing Reggie
about being "pussy-whipped," they're itching to break out
the brews. Sean has organized the day, and firmly instructs them on
the proper use of their bolt-action rifles, complete with scopes.
This alone conveys the queasy sense that Reggie and Ray are going
out in the woods with no real idea what they're doing.
"Trigger Man" risks everything in the first 30 minutes --
including losing impatient auds altogether -- by rightly insisting
on plunging the viewer into the experience of hunting, which is 99%
walking and waiting and keeping absolutely silent, and perhaps 1%
action. Idle minds may conclude they're watching some "Blair
Witch"-y redo or a "Dudes Do Deliverance" revision,
but that would miss the pic's marvelous sense of time and space, seemingly
empty of purpose yet steadily building tension.
Reggie gets some newbie luck by eyeing a deer, but becomes distracted,
and the rest of the day (marked by time markings in a variation on
the device in "The Shining") appears to be an elaborate
excuse for drinking. Out of nowhere, as Sean is preparing to urinate
at the edge of a cliff, he's killed by a bullet. Reggie and Ray dash
away, but soon, at a creek bed, Ray is gunned down by a single head
Reggie realizes he's being targeted by a sharpshooter, likely stationed
at a nearby abandoned factory. Though his decision to investigate
further may seem like a death wish, it also feels like the act of
a city guy desperate to avenge his friends' murders.
After a remarkable sequence involving a lone female jogger, Reggie
stalks the cavernous factory site, suggesting that "Trigger Man"
could easily spin off a vidgame. Contrast between the spooky industrial
setting and the sylvan woods surrounding it is stunning, though not
as stunning as the ending, which comes upon Reggie and auds with the
rude closure life sometimes provides.
Nonpro thesps work naturally in front of West's camera, with none
of them straining for theatrics. In what's starting to become a ghoulish
inside joke for West's films, his mentor and key backer -- American
indie horror specialist Larry Fessenden -- is killed off, just as
he was in a bit part in "The Roost."
West, operating with a tiny crew, covers Gotham, the woods and the
factory with a sometimes insanely frenetic camera that goes overboard
on herky-jerky moves and stuttering zooms. Pic doesn't need such touches,
but the long patches of silence tend to balance it out. Composer Jeff
Grace comes up with one of the eeriest scores in recent genre pics.
CITY BEAT by Paul Birchall
Three goofy city slickers
(Reggie Cunningham, Ray Sullivan, and Sean Reid) decide to rent rifles and
spend the day hunting in a patch of woods in upstate New York. As they trudge
through the forest, the handheld camera represents some kind of a stalker,
watching them. Then, when the three hunters stumble on what appears to be
an abandoned mill by the banks of a river, a shot rings out – and
the hunters unexpectedly become the prey, as a far more competent predator
starts picking them off, one by one.
With a budget for one digital camera and a plastic baggy of blood, writer-director
Ti West still manages to craft a surprisingly effective and suspenseful
little chiller. His film is unabashedly small scale, but a virtual masterpiece
of foreshadowing and unexpected gruesome surprises. Although it clearly
owes a debt of gratitude to The Blair Witch Project, its gradually mounting
creepiness is fresh and edgy on its own terms.
- Dick Hollywood 6/29/07
Ti West's sophomore effort "Trigger Man" packs a punch,
and a bullet or two as well...
I just returned from a screening of Ti West’s (Director of the
Roost and the upcoming Cabin Fever 2) latest psychological horror
fright-fest, Trigger Man. An exercise in low budget filmmaking at
its finest. With a gritty feel here and a grimy taste there, Ti West
has concocted an ultra realistic mind f#*k that will bounce around
in your brain during and after the film is over. Slow on the uptake
but packing a punch so hard I almost fell out of my seat with the
firing of each shot.
The plot is simple. Three friends from New York City go hunting for
deer in some undisclosed forested area. One is experienced, the other
two just want to drink beer and shoot something. If not a deer, then
a squirrel or a tree stump or an empty bottle, or whatever, they just
want to shoot something. The majority of the camera work is all hand
held with long takes creating a slow eeriness with little action to
be found for the first half of the film. Reminiscent of the films
Open Water and Wolf Creek, capturing the mundane of real life, as
these three friends wander around the forest only to realize that
hunting is actually a quite boring and tedious leisure activity. When
an unknown assailant shoots and kills one of the friends randomly,
the two remaining must try to register what just happened, along with
figuring out what the hell they’re going to do to get away and
survive. This is where the film ramps up, turns a corner and puts
the viewer on edge. Who’s next? What the hell is going on? What
would I do in this situation and how are these guys going to get out
of this FUBAR?
Though this type film is not for everyone, the slow build will turn
off many viewers, but it should appeal to people who like their films
with a dark sense of realism. A Cinema Verite/Dogma feel runs through
its hand held HD Video veins, as Ti crafts a film filled with terror
and suspense in which we are forced to take an active participation
in and react to as well, due to the documentary feel the video images
give us. I am looking forward to what Mr. West next has in store for
us (Cabin Fever 2 as stated above), in which he is currently working
Keep up the good work Ti. Dick Hollywood has his eye on you!
- Michael Lerman 6/26/07
Ti West's sophomore effort, a low-budget tension-fest entitled "Trigger
Man" successfully flips genre on its head in the simplest way
possible. West made a splash on the underground horror scene in 2005
with his first film, "The Roost," a throwback to '70s B-horror
that satisfies on the visceral levels. Changing gears here, West creates
something close to a mumblecore set-up and then, shockingly and without
mercy, knocks it down with sudden bursts of violence. One insightful
viewer described it to me as "[Kelly Reichardt's] 'Old Joy'...with
guns." This description is not too far off from the truth. One
of the best examples of five-dollars-and-a-dream genre filmmaking
I've seen perhaps, ever, "Trigger Man" manages to keep the
viewer on the edge of his seat with an intentional lack of stylization,
relying purely on timing and events to create mood. It shows just
how talented West's direction really is, and provides a great send-off
to this chapter of his indie career as he heads into the final stages
of editing the latest installment of the Lionsgate produced franchise
"Cabin Fever," which he wrote himself.
VOICE - Scott Foundas 10/16/07
Imagine Old Joy reconceived as a horror movie and you'll be at least
partially prepared for Trigger Man, the startling sophomore feature
by 26-year- old writer-director (and Larry Fessenden protégé)
Ti West, whose vampire-bat epic The Roost played briefly back in 2005.
Working from the purportedly true story of three buddies on a Delaware
hunting trip attacked by an unseen sniper, West fashions an uncommonly
naturalistic terror tale in which the emphasis on landscape and the
passage of time owes less to cut-and-run splatter-cinema hallmarks
like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave than to the work
of experimental filmmakers like Michael Snow and Chantal Akerman.
Rife with echoes of 9/11 and the Virginia Tech shootings, Trigger
Man denies its audience conventional narrative satisfactions while
creating an almost unbearable atmosphere of voyeurism and random violence,
right up to a final scene that teases us with resolution, only to
devolve into yet another enigma. Who's gunning whom in Trigger Man?
The point is that it scarcely matters in a world where everyday life
has become a deadly contact sport.
- Johnny 99 4/24/07
Ti West’s second feature after the entertaining and dark natured
“The Roost” is an unexpected curve. A curve that is both
fresh and absorbing. The film is about movement that seems hopeless,
fore long and increasingly urgent. It’s about loyalty and strength.
The plot concerns three friends who go hunting for the weekend before
one gets married. They drink beer, shoot at trees and stroll endlessly
through dense wooded forest till they come to a cliff that overlooks
an abandoned industrial site.That’s when things turn bad. They
find themselves on the other side of the gun and must fend for their
lives. There is a breathtaking scene involving a jogger and the massive
looming factory in the background that will have you on the edge of
Everything that occurs in this movie serves a purpose; Ti West focuses
on quality rather than quantity. The plot, which seems simple enough,
gradually takes on an eerily disturbing nature. The dialogue is sparse,
but West uses it as strength, allowing events and cinematography to
speak volumes about the characters. The violence, though disturbing,
also acts as an integral piece of the film. The scenery is spectacular
and Trigger Man makes some of the best use of foreshadowing and sound
design I've seen.
Many will compare this to Gus Van Sants Trilogy: Gerry, Elephant and
Last Days. It seems that the finer subtleties of filmmaking presented
in Trigger Man are lost on today's generation of moviegoers whose
cinematic palates have been cloyed with multi-million-dollar special
effects, unimaginative dialogue, mindless violence and saccharine
plots. Every aspect of this movie has been wonderfully choreographed
to create a film that goes well beyond mere entertainment, simultaneously
shocking and challenging the audience.
I would love to see what he could do with a bigger budget. I feel
that Ti West is here to stay.
by FEARnet 4/15/07
It seems as though horror
fans have given up on monsters. Whether it’s due to the fact that
they’ve been disappointed time and again by poorly crafted CGI creature
effects, no longer finding them convincing enough to be frightening, or
because they’ve simply grown tired of suspending their disbelief.
Having taken a chance on one too many far fetched plots, people are turning
more and more to the gritty, realistic side of horror for their scares.
Maybe it’s just a sign of the times, the current collective subconscious
deciding that human beings themselves are the monsters, far more terrifying
than any fictional beast created in a Hollywood studio.
Whatever the reason, films with more believable, down to earth, people-are-evil
plotlines like Hostel or The Devil’s Rejects have become genre favorites
while even the most finely crafted monster movies, like The Descent for
example, disappear from theaters barely a week after opening. The fans have
spoken, and what they’ve demanded is for horror films to once again
come infused with some degree of real life terror. Well, those searching
for yet another dose of that scary-because-it-could-really-happen (or in
this case, did happen) brand of chills should look no further than Trigger
Man, the newest offering from genre director Ti West.
When three young New Yorkers gear up and head out of the city on all day
hunting trip, they’re expecting little more than an opportunity to
spend some time with old friends and have a little fun. What they get instead
is an absolute nightmare, when one by one they begin to get picked off by
a seemingly invisible sniper, hidden so well they have no idea where the
shots are coming from. Soon, only one is left standing, and despite the
shock of the situation and his inexperience with a weapon, he must attempt
to keep his cool and make his way out of the park in order to survive.
Bearing a classic “inspired by true events” tagline, you can’t
get much more realistic than Trigger Man. All of the actors put in very
convincing performances, delivering totally plausible dialogue and coming
off as characters which definitely feel like real people as opposed to brainless
stereotypical horror victims. The shaky, handheld camera work lends a fair
amount of realism, making it feel as if you’re right there in the
woods with them, but it does get a little excessive at times, especially
all the back and forth zooming.
Stylistically, the film is similar in some ways to director West’s
earlier feature The Roost, but whereas that was an updating of a classic
late night spook show, Trigger Man is more along the lines of a modern day
Deliverance. Both films feature slow, drawn out sequences with little or
no dialogue, and while some might find them overly long or boring, West
effectively uses them to control the pace and lull the viewer into a false
sense of calm.
This works particularly well in Trigger Man, where the moments of quiet
are ripped apart by the sound of the killer’s rifle, creating a heightened
level of suspense and making the unexpected attacks all the more startling.
Some of the more hardcore fans might find it a little light on the gore
and bloodshed in comparison with several of the other grisly trap-them-and-kill-them