Into the Dark – Treehouse

Main Cast: Jimmi Simpson, Stephanie Beatriz

Director: James Roday

Okay, this one confused me.  Not the plot or anything; the movie itself made perfect, if somewhat heavyhanded, sense.  No, I wasn’t sure what holiday this movie was celebrating.  All of the Into the Dark movies are centered around a holiday, starting with Halloween (THE BODY) and working their way through the calendar.  Thanksgiving (FLESH AND BLOOD), Christmas (POOKA!), New Years (NEW YEAR, NEW YOU), Valentine’s Day (DOWN) and now TREEHOUSE.  It took some digging (and by digging, I mean I read the movie’s Wikipedia page), but I finally figured it out.

TREEHOUSE, starring Jimmi Simpson and Stephanie Beatriz, is set around International Women’s Day.  Which makes me think I’m totally not the one to be reviewing this.  But I have a few things to say about the plot anyway, so I’m gonna.

Jimmi Simpson (Westworld)–who I like in pretty much everything I see him in, even when he’s playing a dirt bag–plays Peter Rake, celebrity chef with his own line of cutlery with a logo that reminds me an awful lot of the logo for a cooking competition show featuring Masters of Cheffing, and his own cooking competition show that sounds an awful lot like another cooking competition show featuring those same Masters of Cheffing.

During a break in filming–they’re almost at the polenta episode–Peter decides he needs a break from life, what with his ex-wife getting remarried in a couple of days, so he sends his daughter off with his assistant and retreats to his family home.  His family manor, rather, on his family estate.  I don’t know what kind of money Peter Rake came from, but sign me up.  You could fit my 2-story house on one level of the Rake mansion, the ceilings are so high.

Peter is met by the housekeeper Agnes, and his estranged sister Gwen.  After a brief discussion as to why Peter wasn’t invited to their father’s funeral, District Attorney Gwen has to leave for an important case-related reason, leaving Peter and Agnes alone to torment each other with constant ribbing.

That night, a woman rings the doorbell saying the power’s out at the house she and her friends have rented for a bachelorette party, and does Peter have any flashlights and candles.  He does, he hands them over, and the woman, Kara, is on her way.

The next day, while out for a run past an old treehouse Peter and his friends used to hang out in, he runs across Kara again, and her friend, bride-to-be Marie.  Peter says he has some new recipes he wants to try and he invites the wedding party to his house for dinner.

It doesn’t take long for Peter’s true personality to emerge.  He’s super sexist, but he’s the kind of sexist that says everything with a wink and a smile so, when you’re offended, he can always laugh and say he was just joking.  But you know he really does think the things he just said.

But the women–Kara (Julianna Guill), Marie (Shaunette Renee Wilson), friend Elena (Stephanie Beatriz), and Marie’s mothers Lilith (Mary McCormack) and Morgan (Sophia del Pizzo)–don’t hide their disgust at some of the stupid things he says and, after too much wine and not enough food, a very drunk Peter retires to bed, telling the women to stay as long as they want, even all night since their place still has no power.

He passes out immediately into bed, but wakes up some time later to find an unconscious Morgan in bed with him.  He goes to search the house and that’s when things get weird.

Peter loses control of his body, collapsing in the hall just as a creepy masked figure is climbing the steps towards him, and he’s dragged into a room and knocked out.  He wakes later to find himself paralyzed and chained to the bed by a collar around his neck.

“We’re not angry bitches,” Kara tells Peter, “we’re angry witches.”  Or something like that.

They aim a loaded crossbow at Peter’s crotch and Kara clues him in that her sister was a girl Peter grew up with–and one who later committed suicide after Peter raped her and no one believed her.  Shit just got serious.

Terrors and chills abound as Peter tries to escape with his life, a new horror around every corner, and this had the makings of a powerful movie.  But the problem was, for the plot to really have any impact, for the message TREEHOUSE is trying to convey to have any real impact … let’s face it, Peter has to die.  For this coven to stage such an elaborate revenge–and it is very very elaborate–the threat has to be real.

We move now into spoiler territory, so be warned.

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Peter lives.  He learns his lesson and changes his ways, but in the end, while he admits that, okay, he did rape Kara’s sister–a fact he’s been downplaying for years as “we were kids, we were drunk”–he does no jail time and is let off by the “witches” with a slap on the wrist and a threat to come back if they ever see him being a bad boy again.

And this after it’s revealed this was not Peter’s only run-in with the opposite gender.  It’s heavily implied he may have knocked up a staff member or two and then found reasons to let them go.  Even his own daughter gets the short end of the stick when it comes to quality time with dad.

And what big change does Peter make after his harrowing ordeal, after being bound, cut, clipped, shaved and nearly castrated?  He tells his daughter not to let him or any man take advantage of her.

No kidding?  He should have been doing that all along, it’s what you do.  So I guess after everything he’s been through he’s just free in the world, having seen the error of his ways and from now on he’s going to respect women?

Nah, I think for this story to have any real impact, Peter has to die.  But then if he does, who is the hero of the story?  Kara?  She’s enlisted a coven to get revenge for her sister.  Admirable quality and it shows determination and a will to achieve your goals, but our focus character in this story is Peter, so by all laws of storytelling, he has to live.  But him living diminishes the seriousness with which Kara and the coven go after him.  It’s a quandary.  You want your main character to live, but you also want your main character to possess qualities that make them deserving of living.

I suppose an argument could be made that Peter didn’t know he was a terrible person, so is he not deserving of a second chance?

No, he knew, he just refused to admit it until he was being chased by a bunch of angry witches.  There’s a difference.

TREEHOUSE was written by James Roday and Todd Harthan, with Roday (Shawn Spencer from Psych) directing.  This is just a suggestion but maybe a woman could provide a better POV for an International Women’s Day movie?  Maybe?  Ya think?  The hell do I know?  But I definitely think someone with a stronger foothold in the meaning of the holiday could have written a tighter script.  It doesn’t take us long to realize what kind of person Peter is, so the constant reminding and rehashing is just taking away from time we could have spent on the conflict and actually developing the ending into something more satisfying than what we got (spoiler #2: they weren’t witches, it was all done with special effects and some herbs that were slipped into Peter’s wine and food earlier–which of course explains why they didn’t kill him, but it’s still a very unsatisfying conclusion and I give Peter 3 months before he’s back to his old ways ).  But it seems Roday and Harthan are doing everything they can to show us how sympathetic they are to the cause.

But still, I don’t see any female names on the writing or directing credit, so whatever.  Having said that, however, maybe a 47 year old white male isn’t the person to be reviewing TREEHOUSE.  But I said that right in the beginning, so here we are.

Jimmi Simpson was excellent, even playing a dirt bag.  That man can act his face off, and this portrayal was no different.  It was a shame seeing Stephanie Beatriz playing to some Puerto Rican stereotypes with the put-upon accent and calling Peter “Papi”, but I like to think her character was putting on a character of her own because Rosa Diaz is better than that.

The rest of the cast didn’t make much of an impact.  I did not realize that Julianna Guill, who plays Kara, has horror cred with roles in THE APPARITION and FRIDAY THE 13 (2009).  Mary McCormack (1408) has almost nothing to do here as Lilith, and the other two characters, I’ve already forgotten their names.  The only other memorable performance is Nancy Linehan Charles (Peg from Young Sheldon) as Agnes when she and Peter are sparring.

All of this probably feels like I hated TREEHOUSE.  I didn’t.  I enjoyed it very much.  I just think the script could have used another draft or two with a lighter touch, and the third act was underserved and deserved a much darker path to go down.  The end we got makes the whole thing feel too much like a really long Tales from the Crypt episode.  But overall, I still enjoyed the experience of the movie as a whole and have no problem recommending it.

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