Before I get on with the rest of the review I feel it is worth watching the trailer, it’s pretty important context for the rest of this post.
And now that you have watched the trailer you don’t need to watch the film. I’ve just saved you an about an hour and a half of your life. As a result I will be using spoilers throughout my review, though the trailer itself covers most of them.
A fundamental issue with this film is how it was marketed, as when you position a film as being in the horror genre, and then go on to ignore the core concepts that make something a horror film you are going to annoy some people. The trailer itself utterly misconstrues the tone and feel of the movie, and the posters give a much darker feel, and a far more ‘core horror’ feel. It is a complete bait and switch, extremely deceptive.
But even without this deceptive strategy the film still comes away as a disappointment. The film begins in a pretty standard set up, a family has moved to a farm in Kentucky, owned by a family friend, to make a living. The father is a depressive, abusive alcoholic, the mother lives in fear of her husband, and the son, Eli, is a dull and expressionless teenager with utterly confused motivations. The background of abuse in the family, that we only get a small amount of information about, is treated quite poorly. Within the film there is a part where Eli (the protagonist of this slow motion train wreck) is out on a night walk, after his father through a lamp at him in a drunken rage. Eli bumps into his mother hiding in the barn, who expresses politely that she is staying in the barn because ‘you know what you dad is like when he’s drinking’. As a result the mother, and the father come across as utterly flat characters, devoid of any motivations.
And the main plot is a disappointment too. It follows Eli, who comes across a girl, Amanda, wandering through the woods near his trailer. They sort of hit it off, through a series of awkward conversation and skinny dipping (which includes a delightfully weird scene where he attempts to avert his eyes because staring would make Jesus sad), before beginning some sort of romantic actions. They come across a fenced off section which Amanda tells Eli he shouldn’t cross.
So he crosses the fence. At night. With only a shitty flash light for protection. What you learn during this film is that Eli is neither particularly interesting, or particularly bright. This is the one of the two parts of the film that actually resembles horror, but Eli discovers a body hanging from a tree, works out that it is Amanda’s body, and she then screams at him for visiting the forest.
Eli then begins what one could consider an investigation into Amanda. An investigation in which he asks two people one question, and then happily walks away as if they have given him a satisfactory answer. Eli is told that Amanda is dangerous and that he must stay away from her. The audience is obviously curious as to what is known about her, but Eli being a brilliant detective wanders away happy with that answer, and then he goes to find Amanda to carry on kissing and holding hands down by the creek.
This premise meanders through an hour of blank staring and visually attractive pans of the surrounding countryside. Within this hour the story barely progresses forward. We learn that Eli’s childhood friends has the hots for him and wants him to run away with her. Amanda wants Eli to protect her against something really bad, but we don’t know what that is and Eli never bothers to ask. And after staggering through this bog of poor direction it arrives to the conclusion that the farm owner was her brother, who hanged from the tree because he didn’t want her to leave, and now he is going to hand himself to so he can be with her.
Eli must now save the day by cutting down the body, which in this Universe makes the ghosts go away, of the farmer. But oh no! Both bodies are on the same bit of rope, so he must kill Amanda to save her from the terror of her brother. This would have made a whole lot more sense if they had been tied to the same rope, but in the film it is very clear to see that they are not.
Eli cuts them both down, both now disappear, the farm goes to his mother because why the hell not, and Eli hangs himself from the same tree.
Yep, that is how it ends. Eli hangs himself from the magic tree that he has pretty good evidence to suggest makes you into a ghost. That scene was the pinnacle of the problems with this film. That the motivation of all the characters was impossible to ascertain. Eli looks constantly stoned, speaking in monosyllabic grunts that don’t convey any level of character, but two girls are desperately vying for his attention. Amanda apparently just wants to be loved by Eli, and doesn’t want him to leave her, though they have only known each other a few days. The farm owner has an interesting backstory of crippling debt but apparently that leads directly to incestual behaviour.
So when Eli makes all these stupid comments about never wanting to leave Amanda you groan at his childishness, but can at least appreciate a vague idea of what he wants. But when Amanda is dead, and Eli then hangs himself you just give up with the film. He knows that you are trapped to wandering the forest alone, not a particularly good afterlife, and he has no one to spend it with. He leaves his now widowed mother to manage the farm by herself, and chooses to stalk jailbait 30 years in the future instead.
It just didn’t follow any logical behaviour, and due to Eli never expressing any form of emotion in either his face or words, you are just left cursing at him for being a stupid teenager.
The film had a neat concept, but failed to deliver on the idea in a way which felt real or important. It tried to play two genres, supernatural thriller and coming-of-age story, and missed both, leaving it flailing in a no mans land of commercial failure.
Though even with all that criticism I don’t hate the film. I don’t like it, but I don’t think it is utterly irredeemable. It has moments that show a talented director lies behind the lense, and that the actors do actually know how to do the acting thing, but these are few and far between. This film could have been a nice neat 35 minute short played a film festivals around the globe and it probably would have done very well for it, but there was not enough material to fill the run time it demanded of us.