[Review] Between the Trees
Last year gave us two fantastic entries in the Men Lost in the Woods subgenre of horror with Calibre and The Ritual. Both of those movies were about friendship and how easy those bonds can fray and splinter, while dealing with increasingly horrifying situations. One was entrenched in the real world and the other went in the supernatural direction. It’s a tired subgenre and sometimes a movie comes around that can make it fresh again. Unfortunately, Between the Trees was not that movie for me.
Four friends get together to go on their annual trip, this time to a cabin in some stereotypical rednecky woods. The group is lead by Steve (Greg James), who, when he left his wife in the opening scene to go on this trip, obviously has some problems at home that he needs to deal with. Then there’s Mack (Jonny Lee), the freewheeling single friend, who wants to party and watch porn. Josh (Michael Draper) fills the nerdy quotient and (if this were the early 90s) metrosexual look, with his stylish sweaters and 70s pornstar mustache. Finally, there’s Dave (Dan Kyle), the protoypical grizzled alpha male.
After some stereotypical backwoods run-ins with the locals involving homophobic slurs and jokey Deliverance comments, they make it to the cabin to go…hunting, I guess? But that night, after playing pool, they hear a haunting howl in the forest. The next morning, they think they see something while hunting. Then the next morning (“how many days are they staying here???” I wrote in my notes) their car is damaged and so they send the two most grizzled members (Steve and Dave) to go find help.
But through a series is quick scenes, they stumble on a pair of footprints that are obviously neither men nor bears. “It’s a Sasquatch!” Josh exclaims. Mack suggests getting drunk and watching porn. But Steve and Dave smell blood and want to track whatever it is and kill it. Things happen, the thing they’re hunting gets pissed and then Bad Stuff™ starts to happen.
Ok. So the movie is only about 68 minutes long, before the credits. I’m not opposed to short movies, but the filmmakers need to know what it is they are trying to do. Between the Trees seemingly wants to be two different kinds of movies. It desperately seems to want to be a deep character study of these four friends who obviously have issues, both with each other and themselves. It also seems to want to be a brisk creature feature, with the men against nature (or whatever it is), while they get picked off one by one.
The problem is that both of these are at odds with each other. Not enough time is spent developing these characters, which could have made the movie a bit more of a slow burn. But there’s not really enough time to do that. Conversely, the brisk pace could have worked, if the movie focused more on the external threat of the creatures in the woods. But the monster is barely in the film and its place in both nature and the characters’ survival underdeveloped. You probably won’t know exactly where the story is going, but that’s not because of smart twists. It’s because, at just over an hour, there’s too much crammed in for it to be successful.
Also not helping matters is that the acting is all over the place, to the point that I wondered if some of the actors thought they were making a comedy or a parody. The close-up shots of their faces as they emote wildly didn’t help. Nor the constant fade to blacks that transitioned from scene to scene. And once the acting diverged from four friends taking the piss out of each other, it falls flat.
I hate writing negative reviews of independent films that are trying to make it in a very cluttered film scene. But this one just didn’t do it for me. I think there were elements that could have been interesting, but adequate time was not spent developing the characters or the story. I’d much rather point you in the direction of Calibre or The Ritual.