J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Treehouse: Halloween in the Woods, What Could Go Wrong?

It was a bummer when Hurricane Sandy ruined Halloween for City kids, but the rash of child kidnappings are an even bigger downer for this jittery Midwestern burg. When the big celebration is canceled, Killian’s punky big brother logically drags him into the woods to set off their own fireworks. Of course, he is also hoping to hook up with a girl from school, but the brothers will have a different sort of encounter in Michael Bartlett’s Treehouse (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Crawford always protected the sullen Killian from their abusive father. They now live with an aunt who seems nice enough, but they do not feel secure in their new home. With the Halloween hoedown called off due to a series of home invasion-abductions, such as the one we witness during the prologue, Crawford and his friends arrange to meet out in the woods, where there is no cell reception, unbeknownst to any adults. Sounds good. Thinking they have been stood up, the brothers amble through the forest chancing upon a treehouse. Inside they find the very frightened Elizabeth, who we last saw running after her brother Little Bob at the top of the film.

Of course, they are not alone. The responsible parties are also out there, watching and waiting. Badly injured, Elizabeth refuses to leave the treehouse, so Crawford agrees to go for help while Killian stays with the slightly older teen. That’s right, they split up, during the dark of night, when they know they are being hunted.

Although Treehouse follows a pretty standard narrative arc, it must be said that Bartlett sure knew how to end it. So many horror-exploitation films think they are being clever when they serve up a bitterly nihilistic kick-‘em-back-down-again ending that are always a total letdown if we have made any sort of emotional investment. Instead, Bartlett promises us exactly what we want.

In truth, Treehouse is nowhere near as inventive as Adam Green’s Digging Up the Marrow (also opening this week), but J. Michael Trautmann and Dana Melanie develop some rather spirited chemistry as Killian and Elizabeth, respectively. Daniel Fredrick also exhibits such a strong screen presence it is a shame he makes his did-he-get-away-clean-or-not exit comparatively early on.

By genre standards, Treehouse looks quite impressive. The treehouse set is definitely creepy and Bartlett has the good sense not to show too much of the tormentors too soon. The timing is probably not doing it any critical favors. You have sure seen worse than Treehouse, but it is hard to get overly excited about its workmanlike approach when it opens against the smartly hip Marrow and the massively eerie It Follows is waiting in the wings. Serviceable with a few really nicely turned moments, Treehouse will satisfy genre fans in major need of a fix, but they are the only ones who should show up when it opens tomorrow (2/20) in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema.

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