4. In a Valley of Violence (2016)
In a Valley of Violence is an outlier in Ti West’s filmography simply because it’s not a horror film. It doesn’t even feature elements of horror. It’s a relatively straightforward western about a soft-spoken loner who stumbles into the wrong town; or maybe the town stumbles into the wrong person.
Ethan Hawke plays Paul, a drifter whose only companion is a dog named Abbie. When he enters the town of Denton, he’s greeted by countless aggressors who seek to start a fight at every opportunity. Unfortunately, these aggressors get in over their head when they underestimate what Paul is capable of. If this sounds a little familiar to you, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. In a Valley of Violence really does play out like a western John Wick, and honestly, that’s perfectly okay.
West turns out to be the perfect director for this type of movie. He spends a good chunk of time developing the characters and conflict, and after everything has been established, he unleashes hell. In other words, the build-up is worth the wait. The final (and inevitable) firefight is gleefully amusing, and even if you aren’t on-board during the first half, you’re bound to smile toward the end.
3. The Innkeepers (2011)
You won’t find too many original ideas in The Innkeepers, especially if you take it at its most basic. It’s a haunted hotel movie; you know the ins and outs by now. However, what it lacks in originality it makes up for in style, humor, and atmosphere.
Atmosphere is probably the film’s greatest strength. There is a constant feeling of uneasiness throughout the movie. Even when the characters are cracking jokes, there’s something sinister hiding beneath the surface. When that sinister force finally arrives, viewers get treated to a barrage of edge-of-your-seat scenes that prove West really is as talented as you’ve been hearing.
The Innkeepers proves that you don’t necessarily need original ideas to make a good movie. In spite of its familiar premise, the film continuously manages to surprise. Nobody will claim that it’s groundbreaking cinema, but it never tries to be.
2. X (2022)
After an almost decade-long break from horror movies, Ti West is finally back with this 1970s throwback. X is a gritty, violent homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It borrows heavily from 20th century slasher movies, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of original ideas.
The film revolves around a group of friends who decide to shoot a porno at a run-down farm in Texas. There, they meet Pearl and Howard, an elderly couple who own the land. As is tradition with Ti West movies, the first third seems innocuous enough. The naive young adults argue about their artistic visions while drinking and partying; there’s nothing too concerning at first. Then things get interesting.
When X gets moving, it doesn’t slow down. The horror is cranked up considerably, and on top of that, there’s just enough pitch black comedy to keep you laughing during the bloodbath. It is, hands down, the director’s most entertaining feature.
That doesn’t mean we should ignore the high levels of craftsmanship though. On top of being incredibly fun, X is just really well-made. The camerawork is impressive, the cast is engaging, and the editing is well-done. It all comes together surprisingly well. The end result is one of the best horror movies of 2022.
1. The House of the Devil (2009)
Ti West’s crowning achievement can also be considered his breakout hit. The House of the Devil came out shortly after two ultra-low-budget movies that came and went, and the difference in quality is astounding. This is the real deal. It’s a brilliant ode to numerous cinematic greats, and it stands tall as one of the best horror films of the aughts.
Like X, The House of the Devil is best viewed as a throwback horror film that emphasizes suspense over lightning-fast scares. Horror is certainly present, but the Hitchcockian pacing ultimately means that viewers will have to wait a bit. Thankfully, the film manages to remain entertaining throughout its runtime. Even when it’s not pure, adrenaline pumping horror, it finds ways to sink its teeth in you.
This is a result of several factors. Ti West’s confident direction stands out the most, but it would be foolish to ignore Jocelin Donahue. The leading lady plays the central scream queen perfectly. You can feel the sense of dread as she moves from room to room, trying to figure out whether her fears are justified. Her performance is more than enough to justify the time commitment, but the whole package rightfully earns a recommendation. It’s Ti West at his very best.