Ti West has been building himself up as a brand name the past few years by writing and directing (and editing) a series of horror films that pull you into their unique atmosphere and let you spend time with their characters before turning the scares up to full volume. House Of The Devil gained him a new loyal fan base and The Innkeepers (which hits theaters on February 3rd) is sure to expand it.
As one of the writers and directors of V/H/S – a found footage movie that reinvigorates the stagnant genre – he was able to challenge himself yet again by eschewing his more traditionally formal cinematic aesthetic.
In the film, “When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.”
“I believe the term you’re looking for is ‘slow burn’ (laughs).”
Yeah but I’m not using it as a pejorative.
“I agree. That’s the sort of buzz word people use to describe my work, I think it’s sort of a silly phrase but I can’t escape it. I looking forward to them calling my segment of V/H/S slow burn and I’m really looking forward to when they call my one minute and 45 second ABC’s Of Death entry slow burn. Then I’ll know I have truly peaked”.
And the idea for The Innkeepers came to you while you were working on your last feature?
“When we were making House Of The Devil we were staying at the Yankee Pedlar Inn because it was a cheap place to live. When we were making that movie, weirder stuff was happening at the hotel than was happening onset of House Of The Devil making a satanic movie. So it was all these goofy real life things happening to us. And then when it came time to make a ghost movie, it occurred to me that I had already lived one. So we called to hotel, they said “okay”, and we went back there to film. It was a really bizarre experience.”
The things that struck me about The Innkeepers were how assured it was visually and the performances you got out of Sara Paxton and Pat Healy. They’re people you don’t mind spending an hour and 45 minutes with.
“I know how to make movies and I know how to do minimum wage jobs. I can’t do anything in between. If I can’t make movies I’ll have to go get a busboy job or a retail job because I don’t have another trade. I have no middle. My whole life from 15-26 I had every crappy minimum job you could imagine, and I find that to be both depressing and really charming. So in terms of those characters, the fact that you have these people who are working in this hotel where there’s this big traditional ghost story is amusing to me. Because those kind of characters don’t typically belong in this kind of story. We wanted a charming vibe between the two characters that everyone could relate to and enjoy. And when they get in over their head, it has some emotional relevance.”
Yeah, I liked spending time with the characters.
“I know. People bring that up as a unique thing, but shouldn’t that be the goal of every movie? I think lately it has not been. And to my own fault, on my first film it was not my focus, I was focussed on my effect as a director and not thinking about the depth of the characters. But I think a lot of people are focussed on the ‘coolness’ factor and not the validity of the story or the characters. And that’s what I was trying to do.”
You avoid the common misstep of adding a lot of “cool” moments or lines that look good on a page when you’re writing in the moment, but actually destroy the character.
“People trying to establish something cool come up with so much contrived, derivative stuff. It gets in the way and which is a shame. I wanted to make a movie where, if you took out all of the horror elements, you would have just been watching this awkward romantic comedy and you would have been okay with it.”
You also act in You’re Next and Silver Bullets. Is that something you really want to do more of or does it come about because you’re a part of that community and helping out?
“It’s case by case specific. Silver Bullets was two years ago and came about because I was finishing House Of The Devil and Joe was in New York finishing a movie. Then his movie fell apart. I was having a hard time finishing House Of The Devil and was really stressed out because I’d come off Cabin Fever 2 and I was in a bad mood and trying to prove that it wasn’t my fault. I had gotten gypped of an opportunity and wanted to make sure House Of The Devil came out better. I was in a bad mood. Joe was in a bad mood. We were all sort of over it and ‘version b’ of Joe’s movie was Silver Bullets and we were all hanging out and just kind of did it. But then it took over two years to make that movie, a few days in Chicago, a few days in New York etc…”
“You’re Next was a situation where Adam emailed me and asked me to play a small part. I told him I might be a bad actor and it might be a terrible idea. Then it kind of went away and then he emailed me back saying Joe, Amy, AJ… everyone I knew was in it. So I figured it was a small role and I’d give it a shot. But both of those came out of people sending me emails or inviting me to do it. It wasn’t something I pursued. But I like that kind of collaboration.”
How did you get involved with V/H/S?
“I knew it was happening because I knew Adam Wingard had shot the wraparound stuff with Calvin and Ken Tucker. They had done that before You’re Next. I was at Calvin’s house and that was the first I’d heard about it. Then I think I got an email from Roxanne.”
Are you a fan of found footage though?
“I’m not a huge found footage fan, or I should say the 8 billion derivative ones that have come out since Paranormal Activity, so I was kind of wondering how it would be different. I didn’t want to do it. But then I went on a road trip to the Grand Canyon and hung out in Arizona and thought of an idea [based on that trip]. So I sent them an email saying, “what about this?” And they liked it. And I had total creative freedom. So I got Joe Swanberg and Kate and Sophia who are three really good friends of mine and we went back to the pace where I had just been on a weird vacation. It was a weird, bizarro, personal way to make a movie. Which was appealing to me.”
V/H/S premieres at the Sundance Film Festival as part of their Midnight Programming On January 22nd.