Even if it feels like an episode of X-Files and looks like it was shot by the Home and Away team, Michael Bartlett’s Treehouse is actually pretty interesting. For one thing, setting a large lump of the action in a treehouse is pretty astute: it’s small, claustrophobic, terrifying at night, and seemingly easy to defend from attack. Where many other straight-to-DVD features let budgeting, poor acting, and dubious direction sink the boat of their labours, Treehouse actually manages to execute enough tension and intrigue to surpass all of these things, which it unfortunately has in its own ways.
Killian (J. Michael Trautmann) and his older brother Crawford (Daniel Fredrick) venture into the woods around their town for a night of fireworks and booze, and after discovering a missing girl (Dana Melanie) in a treehouse their night is turned into one of terror and murder. Basic premise, but worked with pretty well.
The forest could have been used to better effect, such a close environment is actually horrifyingly confusing in the dead of night, and though there are many stark scenes that almost create the right atmosphere, there’s still not enough to keep the audience as on-edge as they could be. On the other hand there’s a great use of sound that makes some of the house and treehouse stalk-sequences tense as hell. Melania and Trautmann are probably at their best when reacting to the forest threat, helping to induce a palpable dread that the camera work and script can’t quite induce.
The final 10 minutes is a bit of a curve-ball, identifying the threat but really just grabbing it from nowhere. If the attackers (a confusingly nightmarish take on the 3 bullies at the start of the film) had been filtered in, or alluded to it would have felt a bit more coherent. Still, it actually works out just fine with the Deliverance trio cutting a mean silhouette towards the abandoned farmhouse where little Bear and the girl wind up. From then it becomes a game of cat and mouse with breath-taking edge, not least because the stakes all of a sudden get pretty grave.
What Treehouse does is introduce an unmarked threat, something seemingly supernatural that stalks them up in the treetops, then when the Gothic fairy tale atmosphere is fled, it changes the tone and threat to something far closer to home. It’s clever because films frequently can’t execute the switch: bringing the outside in or vice versa, but here it’s almost saying it doesn’t matter what the threat is, we’ll identify one no matter where we are. Of course, it’s not like this film is based exclusively in the victims’ paranoid minds, it’s very much a victimisation from an external threat.
Treehouse is so close to being a good feature that it’s almost possible to ignore a lot of its first act boredom. It’s got some great spooks, some dodgy acting, weird timing, but there’s an idea at its heart that shows initiative and scope with the least effort.
Dir: Michael Bartlett
Stars: J. Michael Trautmann, Daniel Fredrick, Dana Melanie,