FILM REVIEW: The Body Tree

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Director – Thomas Dunn
Writer – Thomas Dunn, Mikhail Kukushkin
Actors – Erica Dasher, Emma Dumont, Kyle Jones

The Body Tree – directed by Thomas Dunn, a little known filmmaker, who may or may not have been making his directorial debut – is, to be frank with you, the absolute drizzling shits; the epitome of thankless, pointless, fruitless filmmaking. The film, irritatingly, has a pretty intriguing premise. A group of friends head to Russia to say goodbye to a murdered friend in an oddly ritualistic manner. (Now, why this ritual was necessary is never really explained, nor, annoyingly enough, is the manner of the ritual, or even what belief system it falls under). It turns out the friend was murdered by a member of the party, as opposed to the convicted murderer, who was innocent.

Now a demon is on the loose, possessing and preying upon the hapless victims, and the only way to stop it is to find the real killer.


Quite interesting as far as set-ups go; somewhat of an Evil Dead meets Halloween situation, with Wicker Man imagery tossed into the broiler.

However, the execution of this premise couldn’t go any worse if they’d tried. The first thing they ruin is the premise itself; the idea of a demon possessing various members of the group, killing them slowly, as the potential suspects are narrowed down, kill by kill, as the paranoia within the group grows. Honestly, in the hands of a competent writer or director, we could have had a modern version of The Thing. What we got was Birdemic with all the charm sucked out. Instead, the demon sits in the same body for over half the screen time and saps away any suspense. It begins, as most terrible films do, with the writing. Within five minutes, we’re subjected to the token professor character (that contemporary form of expositional dumping, replacing the tired and tested dispatching Wizard of olden times – I’m looking at you, Gandalf.) who kindly tells us the entire set-up of the film, instantly ruining any potential mystique. Before we’ve even met the entire cast, we already know what’s happening.

Consequently, you can make a pretty solid prediction as to how the film will pan out. SPOILER ALERT: your prediction will almost certainly be correct. The rest of the script plays out as a series of unconvincing arguments, terrible, terrible dialogue, and expositional nonsense. It’s not even so bad it’s good, as in The Room; nothing is quotable, nothing is memorable, nothing has any zip, any fire, any life whatsoever. It’s as if they filmed the actor’s auditions and cut them into the film. I often felt as though the actors knew what they’d gotten themselves into, and decided it simply wasn’t worth the effort. This is one turd that no amount of polish could shine. How it took two people to fuck up so badly is beyond me. You’d have thought at least one of them would have realised what a steaming pile of nonsense they’d committed to paper. One writer may be forgiven, but two missing this? I struggle to even call them writers – it’s an insult to the many genuinely talented screen-writers working today.

The set up then proceeds to take the most boring and listless direction available to it. I’m not boasting when I say I figured out the twist immediately, because I’d be worried about your intelligence if you personally hadn’t. Usually I wouldn’t spoil it, but I pray you never subject yourself to this horror, and consequently have no problem saving you the torturous endeavour of viewing it yourself. The best friend is the killer; easily telegraphed by the fact that she is, quite literally, the only character who receives any form of focus or development, a pretty obvious give-away that she’d be in that position.
It could have been a very interesting ‘who done it?’ mystery, had the writers bothered to flesh out the characters. It reached a point where I – a seasoned cinephile who prides himself on his ability to decipher even the deepest surrealist pieces – had no idea who was who, and honestly did not care. I even began assigning them nicknames, based upon their character archetypes. We had such timeless characters as; Unecessarily Angry Jock Guy, The Best Friend Who Is Definitely The Killer, The Blonde Guy, and The Professor, and The Creepy Russian Shaman. When I have to resort to nick-naming characters in such a manner you know that something in the writing process has gone horrifically wrong.


They also managed to destroy their own concept in the worst way possible. The Demon, who could have jumped from body to body, creating that Thing-esque vibe I alluded to earlier. Instead, he sticks in one boy for most of the run time, the characters are all aware of who’s body he is in, and then just continuously argue with eachother about who the killer is, in the most asinine and poorly-written manner possible. ‘You’re the killer, cos of reasons.’ ‘Nah, you’re the killer, cos of other reasons.’ ‘Well my dad’s bigger than your dad!’. So on and so forth. Visually speaking, the film is appalling. The cinematography is lifeless; mostly pulling the ohso-traditional shot of a close up with the background out of focus. Nothing wrong with this, per say, but I’ve always been a deep-focus kind of man, and it did feel mostly like somebody who just took a one-year university course in formulaic film production, and was running things in the safest, blandest way possible. And now to my biggest criticism of the whole damn thing; the fucking editor. Fuck that guy. Seriously, fuck that guy. I try not to swear in my reviews; I try to remain somewhat intellectual and academic, using correct terminology, and not resorting to vulgar expressions. However, this guy deserves a solid ‘fuck that guy.’ He seemed unable to linger on a shot for more than ten seconds at a time, cutting back and forth rapidly at a rate that was nauseating. Every time somebody delivered a line of dialogue – every damn time- the camera insisted that we had to see them; resulting in a jumping of shots akin to a paranoid schizophrenic flickering his eyes
around a busy train station. It was headache inducing, and made the whole thing a disorientating mess . . . which would have been fine, if that was the intention. I feel like it was not. This was merely the work of a person who had no concept whatsoever of cinematic composition; if Kubrick’s works were a well-orchestrated symphony, this is a terrible techno track your mate made on his Macbook.

I wish I had something positive to say about this film, I really do. I don’t enjoy tearing
somebody’s work apart like this; effectively disregarding and dismantling something that
someone has clearly put effort into. However, in this instance, there are no positives. It’s short, at ninety minutes, but it feels significantly longer. I can’t imagine anybody, save for the thirteenyear-old horror crowd, would find anything worth watching in this. It’s appalling. As bad as The Room or Birdemic; but without the charm and entertainment value. A film that goes beyond ‘so bad it’s good’, to the point of being so bad it’s unwatchable. Hopefully, after this, Thomas is done.


Review by Joshua Moulinie

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