Review: TREEHOUSE is a Me Too Era Tale of Settling Debts
If you haven’t been keeping with Hulu and Blumhouse’s effort of creating one movie a month based on a holiday from that month, you’re missing out. Up until now, it’s been an easy guess as to what seasonal events they would be covering. October is Halloween, November is Thanksgiving, December is Christmas, etc, etc.
Then we get to March. When the name of the movie debuted, Treehouse, it was easy to jump to the conclusion that we were getting a tale of Earth Day. Instead, writer-director James Roday, alongside co-writer Todd Harthan decided to think outside of the box and bring a little bit of recognition to the Ides of March. Attributed specifically to March 15th, the Ides of March is historically drawn back to the Roman era as a day when debts needed to be settled by, and eventually would be the day that Julis Caesar was assassinated. Because of these decades old events, it’s often viewed as a day of bad luck, thus making it ripe for the picking for a horror film.
I’ll do my best to dive into the crux of the story without giving too much away because their are some really fun twists and turns along the way. We’re following Peter Rake, a celebrity chef who is in the vein of Gordon Ramsay, insanely talented but full of sardonic wit and outbursts of anger. He’s headed out to his family estate, home of his late father, where he’s burying the proverbial hatchet with his sister. After a few Lynchian encounters with locals, his sister is called away and he ends up making friends with a bachelorette party renting out a house across the way. After entertaining the party for a night, things take a wicked and wild turn that flips the movie on it’s head.
The movie starts off with a little bit of a Twin Peaks vibe and it makes sense considering James Roday is a fan, also crafting the episode of his own hit series Psych "Dual Spires” that was also based off the famous off beat drama. We’re introduced to a large cast of characters, many of whom have some strange behaviors. A store clerk who a social awkwardness that’s accompanied by a strange affinity for singing, a blind housemaid with deadpan humor, an eclectic cast of modern day Wiccan bachelorettes. It’s an entertaining group from the get-go and that’s before things even get weird.
Peter Rake is played by Pysch alum Jimmi Simpson and while he may not be traditionally handsome, Simpsons is able to charm his way into believably likability. He’s quick witted, he’s smart, but he rides the ride dangerously close to charming and douchebag. While he starts the movie out make one-liners and intellectual references, it slowly starts to slip that he has some choice opinions about women, their bodies, their autonomy and you start to scratch your head a little. The bulk of the female centered performances is handled by Julianna Guill, playing the cute and quirky Kara. She’s joined by Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn 99), Mary McCormack (Deep Impact, 1408), Shaunette Renee Wilson (Black Panther) and Sophia Del Pizzo. It’s great to see Beatriz step outside of role she’s known for on Brooklyn 99, as well as McCormack handling the role of, essentially, “den mother.” All of the women have their own chance to shine and they grip each of those moments tightly and do just so. A crazy bedroom scene a little after the halfway mark of the movie gives each woman an opportunity to give their own standout performance.
Roday is able to craft a story of twists and turns that neatly finds itself landing square in the middle of the #MeToo movement. While you’ll find some allegorical and supernatural references throughout, Roday isn’t afraid to tackle the issue completely head on before the run time is out. By the time the full conceit of the plot is unveiled, it’s a full force attack on Hollywood and the systemic and patriarchal problems that have been (and still are) plaguing the entertainment industry. It’s refreshing to see that these filmmakers and actresses felt empowered enough to not even feel relegated to making allusions to the absolutely disgusting acts that Hollywood has been hiding but instead calling them out directly. We need more stories like.
What starts as a revelation turns into revenge. Many times it seems as though Roday may slip and make Rake sympathetic or paint him in a brighter light, only to pull the carpet out from under us once again and allow him to dig his own grave, deeper and deeper. It also allows the audience to root for Kara and her group of diverse, empowered women. Now, unfortunately, the ending of the movie is neat but not quite packing the punch you may be hoping for. Although it introduces one last twist that is fun, it’s not as impactful or satisfying as it could be.
Ultimately, Treehouse is a quirky, then weird, then empowering holiday horror film. It’s carried by a cast of talented actors and a script that isn’t afraid to tackle some very current real world issues. It’s the best when it’s at it’s most vindictive and weird and is never bad by any means but falls sort in some areas where it really could have delivered with a hammer blow rather the strike of a fist.