Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Lowland Fell" and "Treevenge"

Having missed every shorts program in the film festival, I decided to catch today's 11 a.m. screening of the best of the fest. It was a mixed bag, but I enjoyed a few of the selections and am already looking forward to Bumbershoot's One Reel Film Festival, always a terrific shorts showcase. The standout among the SIFF shorts was Lowland Fell, an (intentionally?) ambiguous account of a 17-year-old girl who takes her scooter into the Irish countryside and encounters two handsome brothers working by the side of the road. She asks them for directions, then starts up again, only to fall off her scooter and end up in a swampy ditch. When they help her out of it, she and they discover a dead man beneath the muck.

But this is no murder mystery; the guy they find has been there quite a while and looks positively mummified. The teens speculate that he may have been the victim of a sacrificial rite perpetrated by the Celts. In any case, they take him back to the boys' house (their parents are out of town, conveniently enough) and set him up by the fireside. What ensues is a strange combination of morbid fascination, sexual tension, and a dreamlike climax that leaves one surprise for the film's finale. I'm not exactly sure what that enigmatic ending means, but I do know that Lowland Fell is a sharply written and very well-directed piece of work.

Since I'd entertained thoughts of seeing SIFF's slate of horror shorts, I was glad that today's sampler included Treevenge, a graphic tale of Christmas trees that are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. There isn't a subtle bone in this scrappy horror-comedy's body, and some of the gags/deaths made me cringe inwardly as I laughed outwardly, but the central concept -- pine trees get back at us, big time, for our yearly massacre of their kind -- is hilarious, and the filmmakers' decision to let us see things from the trees' perspective, not just thematically but visually, really pays off. Though I could have done without seeing a sizable fir jump on a baby's head and splatter it, I have to commend the twisted minds behind Treevenge for balancing campy special effects with somewhat disturbing realism -- insofar as violence wrought by trees can be realistic.

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