Picked up by U.S. distributor Uncork'd Entertainment for a VOD/Theatrical release, Michael Bartlett's horror/thriller Treehouse is a retro-styled film that follows two brothers, Killian (J. Michael Trautmann) and Crawford (Daniel Fredrick), who decide to break curfew and head to a nearby forest for a night of fun. In the forest, they find an old treehouse and, inside the treehouse, discover a very terrified Elizabeth (Dana Melanie). Together, they must battle an unimaginable evil trying to get in.
Treehouse opened at L.A.'s Arena Cinemas on February 20th and is also available through various VOD channels. J. Christopher Campbell's lensing for the film is beautiful, a perfect weaving together of emotionally resonant and occasionally chilling camera work that heightens the film's dramatic impact. The same is very much true for the original music of Richard Wells.
Much of the film's claustrophobic chills center around Killian and Elizabeth, who are left behind as Crawford goes to seek help. While Trautmann is a bit hit-and-miss at times, mostly owing to being saddled with clunky dialogue, Melanie's Elizabeth is just about a perfect horror leading lady with her convincing mixture of vulnerability, strength, perseverance, and an emotional resonance that keeps you watching the film even when the film's final third fails to live up to everything that preceded it.
Director Michael Bartlett got his start in a trio of "found footage" films, though this is easily his best project to date. Treehouse possesses an off-kilter visual style that is somehow both menacing and comforting at the same time. These woods feel stark and enveloping, yet they also feel like the kind of woods that have been played in for years and years. There's nothing more frightening, really, than innocent meeting horror with potentially tragic results.
The film's actual predators are a tad bit of a letdown, though Bartlett never really lets us be let down too much. Treehouse isn't really a traditional horror flick, at least not in the contemporary sense of torture porn, but it derives its chills and thrills from the unknown that awaits characters that we've learned to care about within a short span of time.
This is especially true for Elizabeth, whose initial scenes in the film are played out slowly as she both confronts and succumbs to some strange force that has first taken her brother before returning for her.
For those seeking more of a traditional horror flick, Treehouse will be a letdown. There will also be those distracted by its occasionally clunky dialogue, especially in the film's final third, and the sort of "WTF" ending that doesn't impress but just confounds. It's not a flawless film, but I also found myself unable to turn away even as I mumbled "that line was horrible."
Behind strong production values and a top notch performance from Dana Melanie, Treehouse ultimately backs up its menacing premise with enough emotionally grounded scares to leave you thinking about it long after the closing credits have rolled.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic