Treehouse is the latest installment of the Into the Dark film series from Blumhouse Productions. Once a month, a new horror movie goes live on Hulu for streaming members. I have not watched all of them, but the few I did get to see have been fairly enjoyable! I had really high hopes after seeing the trailer for Treehouse, but I was really let down by the narrative, and the character choices. While I certainly understand a lot of what the film is attempting to do, ultimately I think it fails.
Be warned, there may be some spoilers ahead.
The film opens on Peter, a Gordon Ramsay wannabe who would hate it if you said that to his face. The script goes out of its way to make sure you understand that he is #TheWorst. He is a guy who mostly cares for himself, and a teeny bit for his daughter, but I don’t think he would put his needs aside for her. As the Garden State-esque soundtrack plays, Peter makes his way to a small town with some spooky vibes to meet up with an estranged family member.
It soon becomes clear that Peter is an even worse guy that it seems, he’s clearly done something illegal, or borderline illegal, and is worried about his hoards of fans coming after him for it in light of the #MeToo movement. There’s plenty of allusions to Peter mistreating women in just the first 20 minutes of the movie. Honestly, there aren’t a lot of moments where he didn’t annoy me. Some pretty weird things start happening that strongly telegraph what’s coming later.
A black goat shows up in Peter’s yard. A whole crew of bachelorettes lose power and come around asking for help, and Agnes (the caretaker) starts behaving a bit strangely. Peter invites everyone over for dinner to show off, what could go wrong!? The dialogue between Peter and the neighboring bachelorettes is just downright odd. The women are obviously letting Peter talk for a reason, which becomes clear when he falls unconscious after dinner.
The movie I expected based on the trailer finally starts at this point. There are spooky masks, scary witches, weird magic things, and nothing goes right for Peter from here on out. The dialogue, unfortunately, is no less weird! I did not find anything to like in Peter, so I couldn’t root for him. The motivations of the witches aren’t 100% clear, but I still wanted them to succeed more than I wanted Peter to stop being tortured.
Next up is an explanation of the plight of several different groups of women. Is it relevant to the story, or even to Peter? Not entirely. Some of it relates directly to him, but for the most part, this sequence plays out like a lesson in intersectional feminism. We need more films that present an intersectional view of feminism, but here it felt very ham-fisted and just pushed me out of the film. The ways Treehouse failed to realistically address toxic masculinity is the core of my critique.
Eventually, Peter is scared into being a better person, or so you’re led to believe. The movie spends so much time saying that Peter is awful and irredeemable that no amount of kindness or attempted redemption will make me believe he’s really changed.
Teaching a horrible person about feminist issues, subjecting them to a hefty dose of emasculation and abuse, then telling them they better behave or else is just not a path to equality. This is not a triumph for feminism, it’s not feminism at all. The goal is not to scare men into behaving. Education is obviously a key factor, but fear mongering is just not the answer.
Ultimately I’m perplexed about what this movie wanted to do. Maybe it wanted to demonstrate that even the worst guy was capable of redemption. Perhaps the goal was to show how a crew of witches from highly diverse backgrounds can band together to stab the patriarchy out of someone. Or maybe it’s simply a character study with no tie to ongoing social conversations, but I don’t believe that. In any case, the message is unclear to me.
I’m looking forward to watching more Into the Dark films this year! Even if I don’t always love them, I do enjoy picking them apart.
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