Although it’s not a terrible film, this is the first of the fest that I’d call a disappointment. Maybe I was tired, maybe I internally overhyped it … but maybe Under the Tree was a tonally unbalanced, unfocused affair. Oh it’s got some moments, but 89 minutes shouldn’t feel like so much wheel-spinning.
There are two intertwined plot lines. The first is of Atli, a man who, after being caught in a marital infidelity, moves in with his parents. The second is a battle between his parents and their neighbors regarding the pruning of a tree. While Atli struggles to put his family back together, his parents engage in increasingly harmful schemes to ‘win’ in matters of the tree. Presumably there is some thematic resonance to join the two stories, but it was hard for me to see. The time spent in each thread is lopsided, switching between the two haphazardly enough to interrupt proper narrative flow. And by the time things escalate into some delightfully deviant territory, it’s too little too late. Under the Tree kept me at such length from its despicable characters that it became difficult to even enjoy them in the ‘love to hate’ manner needed for this sort of thing.
The film’s commitment to brash cruelty is admirable for sure, as it’s its condemnation of vengeance, but the many moments of shock fail to find the proper angle which would make them enjoyable to watch. And really, this movie is barely about the battle over the tree. Change the title.