Tuesday, May 3, 2011

If a Tree Falls (2010)

It’s funny that so many low budget horror filmmakers are now trying to imitate the 70s grindhouse flicks, because so many of those vintage grindhouse epics were themselves imitations of bigger budget Hollywood movies of their time. At some point, I imagine Hollywood will be shooting faux-faux digital video grindhouse epics in homage to this time period. Every cultural item will eventually be a subject of nostalgia.

Of course, I’m also a fan of those old grindhouse movies, so I imagine I’m the target audience for these homage films. When a Tree Falls is an example, taking one of those old chestnuts, in this case “this group of young people went camping in the woods and ran into some backwoods psychos”, playing it straight, and using various effects to make the digital video look like scratched and faded old film stock. There are also some visual and music cues that recall the films of that era as well as a generally high level of brutality in line with the subgenre.

The young people in question are a brother and sister (played by Ryan Barrett and Jennifer De Lucia) and their two friends (played by Breanne TeBoekhorst and Daniel Zuccala). They’re going out into the wilds of Canada for a weekend trip. The acting is decent for a no-budget movie and there are some interesting subplots indicating the filmmakers’ intention to draw us into the characters before placing them in peril, which is nice. Unfortunately, one of the characters, Will (Zuccala), is a stock horny douche bag of the sort that are becoming common in these movies. Does every group of friends now have one friend who’s a dick weed? Is it a generational thing? None of my friends were dicks. Of course, that probably means I was the dick!

Anyway, the backwoods mutants are much more interesting. The filmmakers had the inspired idea to give them no dialogue until a pivotal scene, so they’re silent and all wearing nylons over their faces and behave like small and violent children; it’s a creepy touch. I guess Ils sort of did the same thing, but there was a lot less interaction between the pshycho kids and the victims in that movie. These psycho kids are a lot weirder. I liked the unnerving bit in which they stroked the characters' faces like they were pets. There’s also a fair amount of mystery and tension in the film, as opposed to reaching immediately for heaping buckets of gore. The film does bring the viscera eventually but the buildup leads us to the payoff as opposed to so many no-budget horror films that are all payoff.

The creators have been self-distributing their movie and it’s worth a viewing; it definitely shows potential. Their intention seems to be to set up a series of films about the nylon-masked killers, but it would be more interesting to see them do something totally different instead. For me, the most enjoyable old exploitation movies were the ones that pulled something out of left field instead of paying homage to the old chestnuts.

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