Sunday, November 4, 2007

Review: Tree

Starring: Bill Elverman, Kate Berry, Avery Laine, Jeff Garretson

Director: Michael R. Steinbeck

Running time: 46 min

Distributors: Drop Shadow Productions

“More and more intense. Every day I am seeing the future. I am seeing my glorious end. The tree is telling me the story of my death.”
Tom Brueggeman, Tree

The Skinny:
Tom Brueggeman and his family discover the tree in their yard gives them visions of the future. Tom struggles with his visions as they are gradually more vivid outlines of his own death.

The Review:
Horror films, or what passes as a textbook definition of horror films today, are all about blood and guts and gore and how disgusting can you make it onscreen. Even worse, with a lower budget the ideas behind all that gore become cheesy imitations when applied on film. Tree is different, and different for all the right reasons. It is different because it applied some novel concepts that aspiring filmmakers should take note of; one of which is that it all starts with the script. Without a good story to tell you are dead in the water.

The movie opens as Tom Brueggeman (Bill Elverman) and his family have recently taken over the family farm in rural Wisconsin after his wife’s father passes away. Tom doesn’t seem to be terribly motivated to have been relegated to this life, but he manages anyway. In the basement one morning, Tom finds a journal his father-in-law left behind full of crop reports and farming tips but at the end there are these stories. Creepy stories that are a bit off-putting to Tom so he ignores them and goes on about his day.

Chopping wood one evening after a long day, Tom starts to see flashes that include his daughter, then his wife crying, then nothing. He passes the visions off as an offshoot of the typically overworked farmer. Later, Tom’s daughter Katie (Avery Laine) tells him that when she is out in the yard playing she “sees things sometimes. Like dreams but I’m awake.” Tom questions her but seemingly for her sake, he ignores it. Katie and wife Ellie (Kate Berry) begin having visions too, but theirs seem to be less of the macabre and more about winning pie contests and the like. They both try to convince Tom this is not a bad thing but as the days go on and the dreams become more intense, eventually showing Tom his own death, he is understandably rattled and less willing to accept this as a perky anomaly.

Another of those novel concepts is finding actors that happen to be good at acting. In many independent films, the acting is one of the main areas of opportunity. In this film it is one of its strongest attributes. Lead actor and writer Bill Elverman gives two winning performances. First his script is original and fresh. He takes the time to tell the story, and his simple idea is maintained for the length of the film. Second, his performance, with Avery Laine, is the heart of the movie. Their performances, as well as the music used in the film, really helped ratchet the tension.

There is a scene by the river stuffed with people used more as a backdrop than to heighten the tension of the scene. This would not have been as distracting had it not been for the strength of the performances leading up to that scene. It was off base, but not enough to ruin the movie.

I smelled the ending coming long before it actually happened, but what saved it from the throes of mediocrity was the very last shot of the movie. I wont ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the closing image rose above what came dangerously close to banality and really brought it home for a strong finish.

The Rub:
An independent film full of strong performances, crisp writing, and refined direction that makes for a genuinely honest movie that actually tells a story. A refreshing change from other horror movies that spend all their time and money relying on blood and guts and special effects they can’t afford.

And there’s the rub.

*** out of ****

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