Written by Josh Lambie – Student Pages Student Writer
I have a belief that even in the most mediocre film, beneath the layers of its shortcomings, lies the seeds of a better film. There is usually always something about a film that is interesting and could be explored further. This is the highest praise I can give to The Body Tree.
There is an interesting premise hidden in this film. The plot concerns a gang of middle class, entitled American twenty-somethings (and their college teacher, which is a strange relationship in itself) who travel to Siberia to try and summon the soul of their dead friend (using Russian mysticism that is very thinly explained in exposition). But there is a twist; one person in the group has hatred toward the deceased friend, Cara, and so their feelings manifest into a dark spirit which possesses the characters and forces them to turn psychotic. The group must find the one who really killed Cara and murder them in order to defeat the spirit.
When you read this plotline it might seem too ridiculous for you to even consider. But as I was watching I saw interesting opportunities to explore guilt and grief. There are several hints that Jeff (Mark Borkowski), the aforementioned college teacher, may have raped an unconscious Cara. At times we can see the guilt in his eyes. Unfortunately Borkowski, who is no doubt the most talented member of the cast, does not have much to work with before the film gets seeped in voodoo and bogeymen.
When the main characters are introduced I got the feeling that we are not supposed to like them. They seem like the typical arrogant Westerners, taking selfies and being disrespectful to the rural community. Unfortunately this is how I viewed them throughout the film. They did not develop. In order to get an emotional response from the audience you have to at least be interested in the characters. Maybe not love them or condone their actions but, at the very least, be invested, empathize or just care in some way. I could not care less when characters were being killed off (and actually hoped some of them would get the axe to stop the histrionics). This was the result of some lazy scriptwriting and lacklustre performances.
Again, this is a shame because there was some good cinematography in this film. The opening drone shot reminded me of a much better film, The Shining, and it set my hopes up for a more psychological thriller. It seems the filmmakers chose the path most choose and went for schlocky, B movie style axe murdering and cheap jump scares. Sometimes the premise is good enough for this to suffice. That wasn’t the case in this film.
I’ll refer back to my belief that I opened with and say that there was something interesting hidden under The Body Tree’s exterior. Sadly, it’s potential is buried under stale performances and trite writing.