Shadow in the Trees (Chris Smith, 2007)
Chris W. Smith, no relation to either Chris Smith (American Movie, The Pool) or Christopher Smith (Severance, Black Death) turns in his first, and as of this writing, his last feature. (He has since gone on to the TV series Dorm Life.) While it is a bad movie, in that sort of indie-no-budget-amateur-mumblecore-actor kind of way, all the ‘this is the worst movie I have ever seen!’ hyperbole floating around at the usual suspects is, well, hyperbole. If you’re a fan of crap-film-released-nowhere-but-Netflix as much as I am, this won’t be the worst movie you watch this month. Or even this week.
Plot: Joseph (played by director Smith) is a kid from the small town of Prospect, Oregon, over which a comet passes every six years. Local legend has it that the coming of the comet arouses a local mythological beast from its slumber to terrorize the natives. Six years ago when the comet passed, Joseph’s father (Phil Smith in his only screen appearance) mysteriously disappeared. Now it’s coming again, and the signs are that the beast is waking…
The biggest problem with Shadow in the Trees is its pace. It reminded me of similarly-indie Trees Grow Tall and Then They Fall in that both films were billed as thrillers, when instead they were drama-paced, quite leisurely. In Shadow in the Trees, the mystery of the creature takes second place to the mystery of the disappearance of Joseph’s father, which itself takes a back seat to character development. There is nothing at all wrong with this as long as the movie is marketed correctly. In this case, “correctly” approximates to “as a character-driven drama” rather than “as a thriller with horror elements.” The studio aimed for, and unfortunately hit, entirely the wrong target audience.
The movie also suffers from some technical flaws that are probably exacerbated by this being on a big, rather than a small, screen. The lighting is horrific, when it exists at all, and there are some places where the sound veers down to almost-silent before cranking back up. (Note: this may of course be a function of streaming the movie over Netflix rather than the actual film itself, though I have never experienced that problem while streaming a professionally-made movie.) But when you’ve watched as many shoestring-budget indies as I have, you start to give aspiring moviemakers a pass on some of the technical details. Unfortunately, the internet has made learn-as-you-go filmmaking all too common. Sometimes it works. Often, as in this case, it doesn’t so much.
That said, once the mystery angles actually start playing, the movie is pretty well-plotted and the conclusion is satisfying, if entirely too neat. It could be worse—it wasn’t released by The Asylum. *
Have a trailer.