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Hal MacDermot [Celluloid 06.14.11] United Kingdom movie review horror

Year: 2011
Directors: Kelly Smith
Writers: Kelly Smith & Chris Andrews
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Hal MacDermot
Rating: 7 out of 10

It’s never a good idea to go on vacation to a house/cabin/camp site in an isolated wood. You know you’re asking for trouble. That groups of friends continue to do so is testament to the power of story, naive behaviour and death wish. Now what happens when you take that vacation in the woods AND invite a serial killer along?

Kelly Smith’s first feature is a movie inspired by fillms like The Hills Have Eyes, old school Hammer House, and I would say a dash of Friday the 13th. Shot on 16mm, which gives a grainy edge, the film delivers on the body count, has an awesome serial killer, and there’s a nice twist at the end. I felt the movie came in a little short at 85 minutes, and could have punched up the suspense levels somewhat. There are some great visuals of body parts hanging from a tree like wind chimes. Also, after seeing this movie, you may want to be more careful of the maggot bait on fishing trips.

Paige and Calvin are off for a weekend in their country cottage, and Calvin’s younger and somewhat slutty (more please) sister is invited along. She in turn brings Tristan, a stockbroker and all round git, (when are they not?), menacingly well played by Gordon Alexander. You love to hate Tristan, he’s awesome. Shortly after arrival:

a) they learn from a local bobby, who weirdly seems like something out of Hot Fuzz, that there’s a serial killer called The Tree Surgeon on the loose

b) a hitchhiker shows up on the doorstep pleading for help. Half his stomach is slashed open, so he sure needs it. Sam Hazeldine as the hitchhiker Shawn has something of the Malcolm McDowell about him, which is great to see. Tristan doesn’t trust the hitchhiker, but hey, Tristan is a stockbroker and a git.

Don’t Let Him In is entertaining, not in the visceral fear stomach churning sense, but in the cultish horror slasher bleeding vein. There are gypsies giving warnings and a killer in the wood with a meat cleaver. It is also nice to see that it’s not just the teenagers that get viciously hunted when they go on holiday, although that maybe that’s a U.S. versus U.K film industry thing (Friday 13th versus Eden Lake).

There were moments that broke the magic for me. Early on we come across a teenage girl in an al fresco art-class, sketching a tree that’s dangling with bleeding body parts, her teacher turns up, sees the bleeding ornaments and starts screaming. All of this is of course visually fantastic, but how come the art girl isn’t surprised the body parts are up there? Maybe I need to work on my tongue in cheek skills, I wasn’t sure. Also, what happened to the avenging gypsy family?

Overall, I enjoyed Don’t Let Him in, and loved everything about the Tree Surgeon, but I wished there had been a bit more on the psychological development front. I wanted to know more about the whole tree blood sacrifice thing. You don’t need much back story if you’ve got Michael Myers, but the Tree Surgeon is not he. I also think that a few more Is He Isn’t He/Cat and Mouse scenes could have ramped up the suspense.

The movie premiered at BAFTA on 12 June. The director told me that they’ve already got strong interest from a bunch of distribution companies, which is great news. I think for the States, Imagination Worldwide has picked it up. No word on the release date yet.

Final word: guys, change the movie title to "The Tree Surgeon". You know it makes sense.

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pierre de frenaula (11 years ago) Reply

Agree...a CULT film in the making.
The talented Director has eked out an amazing film on a limited budget. His decision to shoot on 16mm film, with the addition of professional sound (Technicolor) really paid dividends and were a major contribution to the overall suspense.
A 'must see' the horror genre of the 70's. The storyline with multiple characters committing homicide is unusual and will have you on the edge of your seat. The scary bits are occasionally offset with delicious touches of humour....namely, the character of the policeman, whose visual appearance when warning of the TREE SURGEON, is both unusual and inspired casting.
Another cameo of humour is the final scene of the maniac doing a crazed little dance through the brilliant touch to end on.
A fantastic first feature film for a very talented young director, which will certainly not go unnoticed by the industry.


Anonymous (11 years ago) Reply

The CULT film springs another surprise...... by being too strong for Freakfest!


from the USA (11 years ago) Reply

Negative on the re-naming it "The Tree Surgeon"!
Dunno about the UK, but here in the USA that is a pathetic name for a horror movie. Many horror fans here would pass on a movie with that title because it sounds like a whiny, boring, drama or sappy romance - NOT a horror movie.


from the UK (11 years ago) Reply

Same here (in UK) re:- title...DLHI preferred.
Apparently release date in US is JAN 3rd !!!!!


(11 years ago) Reply

i just want to say this movie was brilliant, the plot when tristin and calvin go fishing is when this movie will really hook you in.. play on words lol but tristins darkside and secrets comes out when they go fishing, trstin gets a call from this guy about a debt, so his phone runs out and as he borrows calvins, it rings for calvin and he can see the text of tristins about the "password" which was firestarter" but before tristin talked about his parents dying in house fire beforehand so suspicion is raised, i wont go into more detail but that was when i was really into this movie, its really good


caffeinedependent (11 years ago) Reply

Will make a point of watching this after reading this review, although I agree I wouldn't have simply based on the name. Perhaps they could have called it Strange Fruit? I can't believe they missed out on the opportunity to do an adaptation of the Billie Holiday classic (obviously with revised lyrics) - would have fitted perfectly.


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