This is the hardest sort of film to review. Films that are runaway successes or those that are just plain awful; both as easy as pie to work with. But the ones that are so very close to being great but blow it, the mixed bags; those are the tricky ones. Treehouse is one of those films; it has the potential to be something very memorable right in the palm of its hand, but lets it slip away.
One cold November morning, a small community is shocked by the disappearance of teenager Elizabeth (Dana Melanie), and her little brother Bob. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened there, so a curfew is established. But teens Crawford (Daniel Fredrick) and his brother Killian (J. Michael Trautmann) decide it’s not going to stop them having fun with fireworks in the woods, so they sneak off in the dead of night. While there though, they find something; a large treehouse, right in the middle of the forest, too big and remote to be made for kids. They look inside, only to discover Elizabeth, who has some very bad news; they are now all being hunted…
It’s when it’s at that titular location that this film is at its best. The treehouse is an ideal place to set up a siege narrative, with it isolated, away from many light sources, with not few ways of escaping. In the middle section set in there, things become incredibly tense, as the characters know that their hunters are right outside, but can’t be sure if said hunters know they’re there or not. The tight space and the only source of light being one shaft of moonlight through the door helps this immeasurably. There are also some great set pieces, including one effective use of sound, as Killian thinks he may have been able to contact help, but things go very awry very fast. The fact that this scene is done in almost one static shot, with well-timed sound effects makes it even better. It also expertly builds up the unseen threat outside incredibly well, with them trying a whole bunch of things to taunt and mock their prisoners.
Unfortunately, the film makes a decision that it can never recover from. It leaves the treehouse. From that point on, it all starts to fall apart. Now there are still some very effective moments in the final act (including a reveal that something the characters used as a lifeline earlier was really something truly horrendous), but that claustrophobic tension from before is gone. What’s more, we learn far too much about what’s been behind everything, and the reveal is pretty underwhelming, both in terms of “oh, that’s it?” and the antagonists in the light don’t have any real sense of menace. What’s more, the final fight against them actually goes by pretty quickly and simply; it’s not the sort of great “final girl” triumph of a good slasher movie, it’s just a “well that was easy!”. It’s extra irritating as one character’s injuries, which a big deal was made of before, seems to have been forgotten about too. As such, the whole thing, after so much build up, is really anticlimactic, just sort of sputtering to a crude halt rather than build to a finale properly.
It’s a shame, because this definitely has its moments, including a very strong opening, but the film hobbles itself by not committing to its premise all the way through. There have been plenty of effective horrors/thrillers that have used a single location all the way through (Lifeboat, Phone Booth, Panic Room, Buried, Stalled…), so there’s no reason why this couldn’t have done the same. If it had stayed there, and allowed its antagonists to keep some of that air of mystery from earlier, it would have been far stronger. It’s still worth checking out, as there is some solid stuff in here, but this really could have been so much more…tree