Director Thomas Dunn’s third movie sees a large group of American college students travel to a mystical and remote part of Siberia to honour a dead friend, only to end up fighting for their lives in a murderous version of Cluedo. As the body count rises, the group of ‘friends’ start accusing each other, and the ‘whodunnit’ tensions start to surface. One minute it is Dan with an axe in the garden. Wait… now it is Rez with a pistol. Or is it?
In reality, nobody can know for certain. The cast is so overwhelmingly huge that none of the characters is that memorable. Dunn and co-writer Mikhail Kukishkin try to make all of them as important as each other, and this backfires badly. By the end of the film it’s impossible to remember any of their names, never mind guess who the killer is.
Thankfully, however, forgetting them is a pleasure. Every single one of them is so irritating in how they speak and how they act around each other. It is the product of some unconvincing performances and wooden dialogue which make even the moments of terror seem mundane. Throwing ‘fuck’ into the middle of every second sentence does not automatically makes it emotional and deep, it makes the whole film hard to take seriously.
Stupid and petty arguments between the students fail to ratchet up the tension and instead function as sideshows, distracting the audience from a lack of any real action. This is especially chronic in the first half of the film, which is nothing more than some sarcastic insults and a professor claiming to know everything (spoiler alert – he doesn’t). A visual and engaging title sequence is about as fascinating as it gets.
There are moments in the last half an hour where The Body Tree manages to be genuinely tense and unnerving. Fans of murder thrillers will definitely be able to sink their teeth into this without having to think too hard about it. That being said, it is also at this point that the film becomes increasingly difficult to understand and seems to contradict itself. If the ‘demon’ can only be someone present at the time of the friend’s death, then why does a guy who was on the other side of the world suddenly start killing people like it is him? It’s nonsensical.
Ultimately, The Body Tree cannot decide what it wants to be. Not scary enough to be a horror, but not clever enough to be a murder mystery. Throw in some insensitive cultural references, and what results is a film that only those with a primal craving for teen murders will find any satisfaction from.
THE BODY TREE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: THOMAS DUNN / SCREENPLAY: THOMAS DUNN, MIKHAIL KUKUSHKIN / STARRING: ERICA DASHER, EMMA DUMONT, KYLE JONES, IVANNA SAKHNO, GENE FARBER / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 13TH