There’s nothing that drives us up the wall, quite like our neighbors…
Under The Tree is a morbid little piece of suburban satire that will quietly creep up your spine and could very easily be one of the best films of the year that you’ve simply never heard of…
We come to an idyllic little corner where we meet Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and his wife Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) who are grieving the disappearance of their older son who is now presumed dead. With the younger son Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) now moving in with them having been kicked out of the house by his wife, the family is now together under one roof. However with Atli now preoccupied with the fight to see his and get custody of his daughter, he finds himself embroiled in yet another conflict… one that involves his parents and their next-door neighbors who want Baldvin and Inga to trim a tree that’s casting a shadow on their lawn. However, when Baldvin and Inga refuse, the disagreement escalates into a full blown fight where property is damaged and simple misunderstandings turn into nefarious conspiracies. Security cameras are installed. Pets go missing, and there’s the matter of a chainsaw that just won’t solve much of anything good or meaningful.
Hard to believe that a film from Iceland would be this filled with fire and fury, but Under The Tree is exactly that and is a master stroke in neighborly relations gone horribly, horribly wrong.
From co-writer/director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson actually pulls inspiration from a true life story for this film which is why I think the damn thing works so well. With so many emotional issues spiraling around the lives of these characters it’s no wonder that things got out of control with such unparralled ease. Shooting the film in an almost cold, and ‘matter of fact’ type style allows us to ride down the rabbit hole of despair that for one reason or another, we see these characters are existing in. It’s not done in a forced style but it feels so very natural and incredibly insidious as the perfect storms of misunderstandings slowly starts to boil over into something so very nasty and really believably at the same time. It’s so deliciously grim that you’ll still be laughing at some of the scenarios that unfold before you even realize that you should be horrified. This is humanity at its worst and you see it coming every step of the way.
Leading us into this cesspool is a brilliant performance from lead actress Edda Björgvinsdóttir. There’s no question that from the beginning of the film she is a broken woman leading the concession of broken people down a spiral staircase into hell itself but the film plays with us so well, being sympathetic towards her let also wanting to smack the hell out of her at the exact same time. Sigurður Sigurjónsson as her husband Baldvin plays the other side of the coin exceptionally well and it’s kind of remarkable how every single character in this film manages to transition to somewhat sympathetic, to downright shitty and then back again with shocking ease. It’s the true colors of human nature on display in this film and they are as murky as all hell.
When all is said and done, Under The Tree isn’t what you’d call a “Feel Good” movie but you’ll feel good in having a moment to live vicariously in the shoes of people letting themselves go to those places that we just don’t in modern society. It’s deliciously bent because it’s actually fairly relatable on so many levels.