A deeply uncomfortable movie full of bad choices [TIFF]

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“Roost” is probably the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a movie theater, and I attended a screening of “Salò”. As soon as the film revealed that Eric was 28, there was a collective squirm that reverberated throughout the audience, and it basically continued in varying intensities for the rest of the film (which in somehow seemed much longer than 90 minutes). Several men got up and left. It wasn’t even the usual exit, desolate, crouching, trying to get out of there as quietly as possible – these guys jumped up and practically ran away. This trend continued as the film progressed; while it wasn’t exactly a mass exodus, it was more than I’ve ever seen.

The story of “Roost” is clearly disreputable at best, but that’s not really the point – controversial topics can make for very bold and groundbreaking cinema. Heck, Stanley Kubrick pretty much made a career out of it, between “A Clockwork Orange” and “Lolita.” No, the problem here is that the writing is weak and Amy Redford’s direction is all over the place. There are a lot of choices to make when shooting a movie, and Redford went on to make some bad ones. In typical Hollywood editing conventions, viewers shouldn’t really notice the editing, but in “Roost” many of the shots and transitions were so odd they stood out. Half of the movie feels like an ill-fated Chevy ad campaign that got someone fired. Are the pictures beautiful? Yes. But why is Eric – the creepy man who traveled 900 miles to have sex with a teenager – standing in some sort of cool, sexy pose in front of his van? Why score their scenes with the kind of soft acoustic music and bright, blurry shots popular in indie romances? You’re never sure how you’re supposed to feel about what’s happening onscreen, which only makes the story that much harder to live through.

The acting in “Roost” is, for the most part, mediocre. Summer Phoenix plays mother Beth. It’s a big role and she’s not quite selling it the way she should. Beth’s future husband, police officer Tim, is played by Jesse Garcia. In another odd choice, Tim accepts and understands very well the grown man in his fiancée’s house who just slept with his future teenage stepdaughter. I’ve met many cops in my life (my dad was one) and uh, that’s not how any of them would react to this situation. Shit, that’s not even how the men of the spectators reacted to this situation, and they had sexy truck poses and an acoustic guitar telling them “Hey, maybe this guy is actually okay!”

To his credit, I really enjoyed Gallner’s performance. Yes, it sometimes passes into the realm of “Room”-worthy melodramatics, but I think it’s more a failure of the direction than of the actor. Van Dien is great, considering the material. We already know she can act thanks to “Stranger Things.” if “Roost” deserves any credit, it gives the talented young actor a chance to shine. She does a really good job of communicating the character’s inner thoughts and nuances. Watching her, I found myself reminiscing about my own reckless teenage crushes and how head over heels I would feel in love with any cute girl or guy who noticed me. It was a welcome — albeit brief — respite from the movie.

/Movie rating: 3 out of 10

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