DreadWorld Review : Treehouse (2014/15)

The independent horror scene is littered with films that leave you thinking "what could have been." Writers or directors have problems translating their somewhat grandiose visions or ideas into a comprehensive, cohesive narrative. Whether it's a case of their minds being too big for their budgets or simply their lack of experience, there are far too many awkwardly, or half realized, celluloid dreams being unleashed on the horror loving public year after year. That's why, when an under the radar independent film comes along that is able to realize it's vision, it's something that should be celebrated. Treehouse, directed by Michael G. Bartlett and written by Alex Child and Michael Harrington, is one of those smaller films, that gets almost everything right.

Killians hometown has be beset by a number of several brutal kidnappings. When he and his older
brother, Crawford defy a town wide curfew to attend a makeshift party in the woods, they stumble upon a seemingly abandoned tree house. Inside, they find one of the alleged kidnapping victims Elizabeth. She has certainly seen better days. After witnessing her little brother get kidnapped, she chased the kidnappers in to the woods. Two days later she's cold, alone, and battling blood sugar problems. Crawford goes to get help, leaving Killian and Lizzie alone to battle the group of kidnappers with only their wits and cunning to protect them.

The first thing that really sticks out about Treehouse is how real the character development feels. It seems there are two types of movie high school stereotypes - the depressed, everything sucks, flannel shirt, high school kids and the Mean Girls/Clueless (did I just drop Mean Girls in two reviews in a row? I think I did - my wife will be proud) high schools where eve the depressed kids are still pretty cool. What the writers of Treehouse have done is craft a far more nuanced, far more accurate portrayal of high school life. Killian is picked on, he's a bit of a "loser." But he still has enough of that youthful hope, that belief that something good can still happen that he brings condoms to the would be party. Why does that matter? Because it makes the character more human, more identifiable. So when he starts to get challenged, first by Lizzie, then by the kidnappers, we actually have a stake in watching him grow.

The other thing that Treehouse does is that it treats its female lead with dignity and respect. We've all seen these films before, guy finds girl, he rescues her. She plays the damsel in distress role. Maybe she gets a cursory kill on the one baddie that wronged her the most, but it's all very formulaic. Where Treehouse differs is that Lizzie isn't just along for the ride. She's an active part of the narrative - not just someone screaming as she runs away. More often than not, it's Lizzie saving Killian rather than the other way around. In a genre that almost prides itself on the "scream queen" archetype, t's refreshing to see a film maker turn that milieu on it's ear.

Treehouse does a lot of things very well. The pre-credit abduction is one of the most tension filled sequences that's come along in a while. Bartletts direction, his camera movements, are interesting enough to add a visual flair to parts of the film where the script may be lacking. There are several solid performances as well. J. Michael Trautmann and Dana Melanie are superb as Killian and Lizzie. Daniel Fredrick, as Killians older brother, Crawford is also very good.

Now that doesn't mean that the film is not without it's faults. There are some pretty extreme leaps in logic that you have to take to fully believe in the third act of the film. Killian and Lizzie have been beset upon by the kidnappers for the better part of a day and night. They manage to escape the tree house and are making their way through the woods, moving as fast as possible to stay ahead of the pursuing kidnappers. Then they stop for a rest - all night. The kidnappers, who had been right on their heels suddenly disappear. Huh? You would think that would be the perfect opportunity to attack. There are other annoying "coincidences" - like the kidnappers conveniently have edible chocolate in the fridge the Killian can use to help Lizzie raise her blood sugar. It's little things like that that hold the film back.

That being said, Treehouse does far more correct than it does wrong. It's a tension filled, genuinely scary film with some very good performances and wonderful direction. You should definitely check it out when it hits VOD on February 20th. Or if you happen to be in the LA area around that time check it out at Arena Cinemas.

*** and 1/2 stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always, thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the review; I really appreciate it. This really made my day: "The other thing that Treehouse does is that it treats its female lead with dignity and respect."

    - Michael G. Bartlett