Saturday, October 31, 2015

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #13: Treevenge

It’s weird to think that Jason Eisener has been on the cusp of being horror’s Next Big Thing for nearly a decade now. He won a ‘Grindhouse’ fake trailer competition in 2007 with the distilled (and decidedly more focused) version of what would become his feature length debut, ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’. He followed that with the short film under consideration this evening, the punningly titled ‘Treevenge’, after which it was three years until the full-length ‘Hobo’ appeared. It did little business at the box office, earning only a scraping of its already low budget back, but went on to become a cult favourite. Eisener went on the contribute segments to the anthologies ‘The ABCs of Death’ and ‘V/H/S/2’. Since then, there’s been a couple more shorts, including ‘One Last Dive’ which is rumoured to be getting the feature-length treatment though what’s happened to his mooted second feature ‘Blatant Violence High’ is anyone’s guess.

I have a feeling that Eisener might prove better suited to the short film form. ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’, while genre-savvy and dementedly inventive, ultimately felt like someone had crossed Quentin Tarantino with the Tasmanian Devil, pumped the resulting hybrid full of more coffee than a long-haul truck driver drinks in a year, and had it scream at you about ALL ITS FAVOURITE MOVIES for an hour and a half while jabbing hat pins under your nails at random moments just to make sure you were still paying attention. ‘Treevenge’, at just sixteen minutes (twelve if you lose the opening and closing credits) suffers from a similar condition. Let’s call it Demented Nerd Boy Exploitation Fan Syndrome.

‘Treevenge’, in case you didn’t guess from the title, is a comedy. Its best joke is the use of the opening theme from ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ as Eisener’s camera pans across acres of fir trees. That the title card looks like this is just beautiful:

Having delivered its subtlest and funniest moment, Eisener then cuts loose in gleefully unrestrained and self-indulgent fashion for a tale of Christmas trees pushed beyond endurance – chopped down, the unsaleable ones burned, the saleable ones sold to toothpaste-commercial squeaky clean families and decked with baubles while saccharine festive music plays at heinous volume; Christmas trees that fight back in graphically bloody fashion; Christmas trees that mercilessly exact their treevenge.

In all fairness, Eisener dishes up some great ideas: the fir tree POV scenes are brilliantly done; a sequence in which saplings find themselves in the back of a truck and go into a claustrophobic panic manages to be funny and weirdly poignant (they’re comforted by the bigger trees) at the same time; the first death turns the fact that you can see it coming like an ocean liner on a duckpond into its biggest asset; a particularly graphic moment segues from Fulci eyeball-trauma homage to a grotesque version of the spaghetti scene from ‘Lady and the Tramp’; and the underlying concept that some Christmas trees are sentient and even have their own language is priceless.

Just as much, however, doesn’t work. After spending two-thirds of his running time establishing a handful of specifically delineated characters, Eisener foregoes the besieged-group-of-survivors scenario that would have suited the story down to the ground (imagine it: mall, Christmas decorations, piped-in carols, Santas and elves fleeing in terror) and simply has his deeply pissed off trees rampage all over some identikit small town; he jettisons his main characters, too, and suddenly we have NRA types cutting loose with rifles, a nod to ‘Deliverance’ that you might never be able to get out of your head, and a cynical payoff involving a small child. Whether anything’s off-limits in a horror movie is a moot point, and these moments might have worked if there had been something in the preceding few minutes to contextualise them. As it is, Eisener giddily throws in as much gross-out fare as he can given the constraints of budget and running time. The reintroduction of the ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ theme as the film abruptly ends seems less like effectively mordant humour this time round than an admission that it was all a bad-taste joke. Which, to be fair, it was. But a joke is only as good as its teller, and ‘Treevenge’ would have benefited from more flair and style in the telling.

No comments: