PLOT: When an adolescent boy finds a missing girl bloodied and battered in a secluded tree-house, he avows to escort her back to safety, find her little brother and avenge her mysterious band of captors.
REVIEW: After seven years spent scrawling in and realizing a trio of so-called spooky diary entries with pal Kevin Gates - ZOMBIE DIARIES, ZOMBIE DIARIES 2 and THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL - director Michael G. Bartlett has decided it's about time he helmed a movie of his very own. Unfortunately, his debut feature TREEHOUSE is a flick that offers exactly what you'd expect from its silly title...a juvenile playpen utterly devoid of adult supervision. Languid, ponderous and ultimately not very scary or at all compelling...I am quite hard-pressed to give you a single reason to climb this here TREEHOUSE. In fact, if you've laid eyes on the poster, then you've already witnessed the most frightening point in the entire flick...an image that, by the way, was achieved with far greater terror in the opening sequence of SINISTER. Hell, the tree-house sequence in HOME ALONE has more tension and intrinsic entertainment value than this one.
So a teenaged lass named Elizabeth (Dana Melanie)) walks home from school one day to find her house ransacked, the floor covered in mud and her father and little brother mysteriously missing. As she aimlessly wanders into the Missouri woods to find the latter, little Bob, she too ends up vanishing. Okay. Cut to Killian (J. Michael Trautmann), a tormented introvert a couple years younger than Liz, and his older brother Crawford (Daniel Fredrick), a more gregarious alpha...who together plan to rendezvous with some chicks out in the woods for some teenage shenanigans. As they two bros wait for the others to meet up, they decide to light off a trove of fireworks they brought along. As one mortar illuminates the sky, Crawford spots an ominous looking tree-house mounted high above. Of course, they decide to climb the tree and snoop around. And what do you know...there's Elizabeth, completely alone, with bloody feet and nicked-up cheeks. What the f*ck gives?
Turns out, not a whole lot. After a not so creepy silhouette makes a cameo appearance on a tree limb at night, we're given fewer and fewer chills and thrills as the flick unfolds. A pity, because all we're left with aside from a shit load of over-exposition is a series of slow, boring, stolid get-to-know-you bonding moments inside the tree-house between Killian and Elizabeth, replete with flashbacks and unfulfilled promises. Crawford disappears early on to get help, never to return. We never see little Bob. And to make matters worse, outside of the aforementioned poster spoiler, we are never given any credible sense of impending doom from these mysterious kidnappers. Are they aliens? Monsters? Hideous backwoods mutants? All we know until the saggy cop out of a conclusion is one of the culprits is giant, they all dress in black and watch the tree-house to make sure Liz doesn't escape. By the time the two kids do finally make a run for it, you simply don't care. Nothing feels earned or authentic or even remotely engaging.
I will say this though. I thought the film was adequately shot by DP J. Christopher Campbell, with a nice array of lavish daytime countryside shots and a nighttime atmosphere drenched in fog. You can see where the most of the rough $3 million budget went, or let's hope. After-all, Campbell has been a longtime grip, serving on such better, bigger budget projects as ZOMBIELAND and True Blood. Beyond that, I thought that Trautmann gave a pretty decent performance as Killian. He sells the torment of an abused adolescent all the way through, constantly consternated, in a way that feels genuine and unforced, even if a bit monotone. The limited lines he's given work well with the character, particularly when compared with his brother Crawford's stilted and overly dopey dialogue...the kind that makes you wonder how Bartlett ever got a movie made before this. That bad. Other minor plaudits go to the glancingly brushed upon antiwar sentiment and, even more specifically, the cowardice of sniper-fire. Too bad this angle (only touched on in flashback), like any remote morsel of horror, was never further explored.
Look, tree-houses are for nine year olds, and I'm afraid this one's no exception. In fact, I'm more of afraid of that than anything actually shown in the film. Really! The movie's a lumbering slog, overwrought with way too much exposition and far too little terror for anyone to invest 96 minutes in. Nothing happens! The most terrifying part of the movie, if you could call it that, is shamelessly foretold on the promotional poster. Enough said. Aside from a quasi-compelling turn from Trautmann as the coming-of-age hero, and at times some sumptuous cinematography, there isn't much to see here...and even less to like. In the end there is no catharsis, no legitimately earned payoff, no satisfaction of any kind. On the contrary, the final shot is an infuriatingly limp one...a complete copout of a conclusion. Go watch The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror instead!