A group of young friends travel to the Siberian countryside for a sacred ritual to honour their murdered Russian friend, Ksenia. The ceremony goes horribly wrong though when instead or releasing a good spirit to help Ksenia move on in the afterlife, an evil spirit manifests instead. The friends learn that the only explanation is that one of them is actually Ksenia’s murderer. The evil spirit possesses one of the friends and turns him into sociopath who starts to hunt and kills the others. The only way to stop the demon is to kill Ksenia’s murderer but nobody knows who that is. The group is trapped in a snowbound lodge far from civilization with no way to get help or escape. All they have is each other. As the night wears on, everyone becomes a suspect and loyalties among them are tested. The race is on to find Ksenia’s killer before the demon leaves nothing but an empty lodge and a trail of bodies.
The Body Tree is filmed in the scenic Altai Republic in Russian Siberia. It’s a culturally rich film that borrows from shamanic legend and adds a very different twist to what typically passes for a possession film. It’s clear from the first twenty minutes of the film that the crew behind The Body Tree set out to do something different. Sure, there’s the usual collection of the attractive, cliqued college kids and the oddball locals that seem to live in the early 1900s, but the atmosphere of the film is different; foreign.
The film opens by throwing us into the deep end of a story already a year old. We learn that there was a murder, possible false accusations, mistrust, and obfuscation. The friends of the deceased have all agreed to travel to pay their respects at her family homestead. One shamanic seance later and everything, as per usual, starts to unravel. What they didn’t expect is that the actual killer is surprisingly still amongst their number.
We get to experience two timelines: The one involving the original murder and the one taking place in the Altai, with the focus being on the latter. Unlike the trailer, it takes a while for the full chaos of the seance to kick in. The film tries hard to add depth and story to the many characters that populate the creepy house in the woods and does a pretty fair job of it.
Unfortunately, what the film eventually distills into is a bunch of beautiful, aggressive American youths screaming at each-other in what, in essence, is a giant game of Cluedo. Where the second act picks up and really brings a strong narrative, the third falls a little flat when it comes to pacing. I feel that there were perhaps just a couple of characters too many. The film doesn’t end with the strength it started with, and the reveal at the end is ultimately lackluster.
The cinematography, directing and editing were all on point. The score was present but nothing memorable. Where the film failed was the last act’s lack of excitement. It just wasn’t scary, entertaining or engaging. In the end I didn’t really care for anyone and it didn’t matter who lived and who died.
That is not to say that it was a bad film; I actually enjoyed it for the most part. It was just a title that started strong but ran out of steam before the finish line. I’d really like to see what the director does next, preferably with a better script. Catch the trailer below.
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