DVD REVIEW: TREEHOUSE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL G. BARTLETT / SCREENPLAY: ALEX CHILD, MILES HARRINGTON / STARRING: J. MICHAEL TRAUTMANN, DANA MELANIE, CLINT JAMES, DANIEL FREDRICK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
One day, a young girl, Elizabeth (Melanie), discovers that her younger brother has been kidnapped from her rural home, and so she nervously pursues whomever or whatever has taken him into the woods, only to presumably vanish without a trace. Then, we’re introduced to Killian (Trautmann), who is shy, isolated and always relies on his older brother Crawford (Fredrick). When the duo decides to organise a secret double date in the woods, they unwittingly stumble across an old deserted treehouse. As soon as they start investigating it, they discover the terrified Elizabeth, who tells them of her ordeal; that some unknown force had taken her brother. Crawford tells them he will go for help as Elizabeth is in no fit state to move, leaving her and Killian hiding for their lives as an unknown evil closes in.
So the film starts off at a yomping pace, and continues on with that pace, and along the way, you know that this clearly marks the emergence of a new breed of talent within the horror genre. Like the works of horror maestro John Carpenter before him, director Michael Bartlett possesses a visual style and flare that is stark and visceral. Bartlett succeeds in creating and capturing that taut and claustrophobic vision of these two injured, traumatised teenagers trapped in a dark, foreboding woodland setting that is populated by multiple, largely unseen blood-hungry predators. The cinematography and camera work are top-notch with the occasional lingering point of view shot to create tension, plus the use of sound is superbly spine chilling. In a sense, Treehouse isn’t really much of a full-on horror movie, but more of a slasher thriller that thankfully doesn’t veer into Wrong Turn territory.
As far as the two main lead performances are concerned, J. Michael Trautmann feels less assured as Killian, going from weakened kid to hardened man. It may be to do with clunky character development or him struggling with the dialogue, but it’s somewhat telling with Trautmann’s lack of experience in a leading role. In the end, it’s Dana Melanie who truly stands out as the real star of the show as she completely dominates the entire screen. Spawning from the long line of “final girls” of slasher yore, Melanie brings an underlying emotional core and strength to the role of Elizabeth that contrasts with her slight frame and feminine fragility. She is undeniably a true rising star, and there’s no doubt we’ll see much more of her in the near future.
On the downside, some of the dialogue is ropey, and there will be mixed reactions about the open ending, which is somewhat illogical, implausible and confounding. It’s not a devastating decision, but it’s still a “WTF!?” moment.
In the end, while there are inadequate faults with the script and some ungainly performances, Treehouse overcomes its flaws with its core aesthetic, visceral atmosphere, Dana Melanie’s towering performance, and ultimately delivering on its promise to scare the pants off you.