“Are You Familiar With The Term Gulag?” – The Body Tree (Film Review)

Rating:

The Body Tree is basically your good old “cabin in the woods film.” It starts out better than most, but ends up just as bad. The movie follows a group of American college students who travel to Siberia to attend a burial celebration of their beloved friend Kara who was murdered one year prior. Already the fact that a bunch of American kids are in the wildest, most desolate part of Russia should ring a loud bell in the audience’s minds. Is anyone going to survive? There is no way this can turn out well. And of course it does not – but it’s at least the setting is a breath of fresh air making it different from other films of this kind.

The Body Tree is very fast paced, which in itself isn’t necessarily bad, but in this case there is no build up in the story arch. We are simply dropped in the middle of Siberia with no idea what is going on, even the character relationships are ambiguous. The editing throughout seems to be jumpy – just as one scene is about to develop and acquire some sort of depth, the film cuts to a different scene and setting. All this does is throw the audience off their tracks – when we’re just about to make sense of something, we have to start all over again. This inevitably results in our loss of concentration, and we reach for our phone to check Instagram. But once we look back, we are even more lost than we were before. I even felt slightly relieved when the demon was released, because then at least the story began to make sense.

It isn’t all bad, of course – the execution of the ritual scene was actually rather great, even innovative in comparison to other films from the same genre. It was suspenseful, perhaps one of the few scenes that actually kept the audience on their toes. Another positive thing I’d like to point out is the film’s awareness of orientalism, the tendency of Westeners to see Russia as exotic – when the group arrives in their (final) destination, they take pictures with a Russian kid, tools, and else. Besides the comic effect, it underlines their ignorance, and their superiority complexes. No wonder everything went wrong.

I cannot quite pinpoint what it is about this move – perhaps the jumpy editing, or the lack of build up – that makes the viewer forget everything about it after the screen fades black. The day after I couldn’t remember the characters’ names, two days after, I was struggling to piece together the basic plot line. But I refused to rewatch it, I don’t quite think it’s worth the time. Got to give credit to the director for including a queer character though, you know, the cool guy with the scarf. I doubt it’s much of a spoiler to say that he dies first.

 

Dir: Thomas Dunn

Scr: Thomas DunnMikhail Kukushkin

Featuring: Erica Dasher, Emma Dumon, Kyle Jones, Ivanna Sakhno, Gene Farber, Costa Ronin, Sam Hamill, Mason D. Davis

Prd: Mikhail Kukushkin

DOP: Colin Akoon

Music: Navid Hejazi

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run Time: 97 min