There are not many things in this world that I find more frightening than motiveless masked assailants. Say what you will about the movie The Strangers, but the trailer alone almost had me losing my mind. Also, this year at TIFF”s Midnight Madness I will be forced to sit through Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, whose animal-masked assailants will probably have me looking through the Yellow Pages for a good therapist when I get home.
Before I sat down to watch my DVD copy of If a Tree Falls I took a long look at the cover. Specifically, I was looking at the blindfolded woman running away in terror and the burly man wearing a fishnet tank top, and nylon panty hose as a mask, which has distorted his facial features grotesquely. I know what you’re thinking, you gotta be crazy as hell to wear a fishnet tank top!
Was it really a good idea for me to watch this alone?
Well, I did. In the name of art!
I probably won’t sleep too well for a while.
If a Tree Falls is a cool indie horror flick from Black Fawn Films and director Philip Carrer. It was also an offical selection from the 2010 Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. The story revolves around two siblings, Brad (Ryan Barrett) and Lisa (Jennifer De Lucia), and two family friends, Will (Daniel Zuccala) and Vanessa (Breanne TeBoekhorst), who are setting out together for a road trip. After a creepy table-side encounter with a weirdo at a diner, the crew decide to setup camp for the night. Unfortunately for them, this is where the horror starts as the group is attacked in the night by a group of masked men. The friends are left with one seemingly impossible solution to their predicament. Get away!
The four leads do a great job of transforming from relaxed friends, enjoying a casual road trip, to suffering victims that just want to evade or at the very least understand why they are being pursued by masked assailants. Also, Jay Justin turns in a great performance as the creepy customer in the diner. The villains also do a great job with their terrifying, distorted faces and their complete lack of compassion.
On the technical side of things, the camera work is fairly solid throughout the film. It seems like a lot of work was done after shooting, as the film has a 70’s grindhouse feel to it. The picture quality was intentionally made to look like the reel had been forgotten on some dusty shelf for a few decades. The scratches and other artifacts are quite effective and greatly add to the film’s atmosphere. The soundtrack of original tunes is also quite good.
Finally, I think one of the hardest things to do in horror cinema in recent years is to walk that fine line between gut-wrenching suspense and downright torture. I feel that the most successful horror films are basically a well balanced tug-of-war between the heroes and the villains, while at the same time delivering the buckets of gore that modern audiences seem to crave. The struggle for power in If a Tree Falls leans a little heavily in the villains’ favour for my taste. However, with this imbalance of power comes an incredibly oppressive and upsetting atmosphere which will certainly appeal to many horror fans.
If a Tree Falls is definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of the gritty world of helpless victims and backwoods monsters. Also, it’s nice to see such a professional product that was shot in the small city of Guelph, Ontario. Normally this DVD would set you back about $15 from Black Fawn Distribution, but if you’re lucky enough to be attending Fan Expo this weekend, then pop by the Black Fawn Films booth and you can pick it up for only $10.