Ginger Nuts of Horror
With some films there is perfect a time and place to watch them. A time of the year that just adds to the viewing pleasure. Treehouse is a film that is just begging to be watched now. This backwoods horror/thriller is full of atmospheric shots of misty covered woods, with of autumn’s golden rays piercing through the cloying mist. It elicits a true sense of Halloween dread in the viewer.
The plot of Treehouse is a basic one, some thing or someone is kidnapping the kids in a typical sleepy small American town. You know the sort of town where everyone knows your name. Where every street is populated with Mom and Pop stores. So when a couple of kids go missing and a curfew is placed over the sleepy town, it's only traditional and inevitable that two kids decide to break the curfew for a chance of some late night nookie.
However as is want to happen in these sort of films their plans don't quite end up the way they want to. Left high and dry by their dates the two brothers decide to let off some fireworks, since it’s well known that all American teenagers are always packing fireworks and cherry bombs. When they let of one of their rockets they discover a large tree house high up in one of the ancient trees, and as teenage boys are want to do they just have to climb up and investigate. Bad move boys as this is going to be a night that you will never forget.
There is a lot to love in Treehouse, from the above synopsis it may seem that this is your typical Hollywood soulless stalk and slash film that is so beloved of mindless film producers. And for the most part this film stays well clear of this tired and boring concept. The leads are not your typical high school adonis’s, and there are no perky cheerleaders waiting for them in the woods. It's refreshing to watch a horror film with teenage leads that doesn't have you waiting for the tedious bra and boobie shot. The natural awkwardness of the two male leads adds a nice depth to the film. In particular J. Michael Trautmann's performance of Killian is exceptional. He has a wonderfully expressive face. From the brow beaten and bullied kid at the start of the film to the hero at the end of the film, Trautmann's portrayal and development of Killian's character is assured and well played helped by some inspired facial expressions. This is his film, and as a lead he more than admirably carries it off. He is helped with a great if albeit small cast of supporting actors. Daniel Fredrick is good as his brother, and Dana Melanie is excellent as the scared and emotionally battered Elizabeth.
In some ways this is a film of two parts, a brilliant and tense first act that plays out as an atmospheric siege film and a slightly less appealing final act which slips into survival horror mode, and somehow loses some of the charm and impact built up during the first hour of the film.
The director wisely keeps everyone guessing during the first hour or so of the film, we, as well as the cast have no clue as to the nature of the menace. Tension is built up through the excellent use of cinematography, film score and sound effects. In particular a scene involving a conversation on a two way radio will have you biting your nails.
There are some brilliant camera shots in the film and when combined with a sublime score give the scenes set in the woods an almost dream like quality. Flashbacks are often an overused cliché in films, and while watching the film there was a sense of why are we seeing these? However by the time that the final frame finishes, the reason for these are made clear. They are all part of Killians journey and transformation.
For the first sixty minutes or so Treehouse is a tremendously tense and atmospheric thriller, it's only in the final third that the director fumbles the ball.
The film shifts from a siege mode to survival mode, the nature of the "monsters" is revealed, in a way I wish the director would have been a little bit braver as to who and what has been haunting the woods. In particular
the fact that one of the brothers had a loping limp really grated, why does every backwoods family have member who has a limp? At least they weren't all inbred simpleton mutants like those found in the despicable Wrong Turn films. The biggest problem with this part of the film is the way in which it feels rushed. These aren't your typical hard to hill hillbillies, they go down quick and fast, perhaps two fast. In a slightly twisted way it would have good to have more of their personalities in the film. There is a brilliant shot of one of the brothers after he attacks Elizabeth, that shows a chilling disdain and nonchalance for his victim. A few more shots like this would have really lifted this final act.
As for the films ending I can see that really annoying a lot of viewers, personally I think it's a brave and inspired ending. It's the point at which Killian's journey and development comes to fruition. His story is over we don't need to see anymore.
Treehouse overall is a solid film, one that starts out extremely well only to be hampered by a weaker final act. But don't ;let this put you off, despite this Treehouse is still head and shoulders above the vast majority of big budget horror films.