“Roost” is probably the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever felt in a cinema, and I attended a screening of “Salò”. As soon as the film revealed that Eric was 28 years old, there was a collective cringe that reverberated through the audience, and this basically continued with varying intensity for the rest of the film (which somehow felt so much longer than 90 minutes). Several men got up and just left. It wasn’t even the usual, apologetic, crouch down and try to get out of there as quietly as possible – these guys jumped up and almost ran out. 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 in “Roost” is clearly distasteful at best, but that’s not really the problem – controversial subjects can make for some very daring, ground-breaking cinema. Heck, Stanley Kubrick practically 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 you have to make when shooting a movie, and Redford later made some bad ones. Within typical Hollywood editing conventions, viewers shouldn’t really notice the editing, but in “Roost,” many of the shots and transitions were so weird that they stand out. Half the movie feels like an ill-fated Chevy commercial that got someone fired. Are the pictures pretty? Yes. But why is Eric—the creepy man who drove 900 miles to have sex with a teenager—standing in some kind of cool, sexy pose in front of his pickup truck? Why score their scenes with the kind of gentle acoustic music and bright, soft imagery popular in indie romances? You’re never sure how you’re going to feel about what’s happening on screen, which just makes the story that much harder to sit through.
The acting in “Roost” is mostly mediocre. Summer Phoenix plays her mother Beth. It’s a big role and she doesn’t quite sell it like she needs to. Beth’s husband-to-be, cop Tim, is played by Jesse Garcia. In another strange choice, Tim is very accepting and understanding of the grown man in his fiancée’s house who has just slept with his teenage, soon-to-be stepdaughter. I’ve met a lot of police officers in my life (my dad was one) and uh, that’s not how any of them would react to that situation. Hell, that’s not even how the men in audience reacted to that situation, and they had sexy truck poses and acoustic guitar that told them “Hey, maybe this guy is actually ok!”
To his credit, I actually enjoyed Gallner’s performance. Yes, it veers into the realm of “Room”-worthy melodramatics at times, but I feel that’s more a failing of the direction than the acting. 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 an opportunity to shine. She does a very good job of conveying the character’s inner thoughts and nuances. Looking at her, I found myself reminiscing about my own reckless teenage crushes, and how head over heels I would feel for basically any cute girl or guy who noticed me. It was a welcome – if brief – reprieve from the film.
/Film rating: 3 out of 10