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Film Reviews Review: Icelandic drama Under the Tree is gloriously grim

Sigurdur Sigurjonsson in Under the Tree.

Magnolia Pictures

  • Under the Tree
  • Written by: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson, Huldar Breidfjord
  • Directed by: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson
  • Starring: Edda Bjorgvinsdottir, Steinthor Hroar Steinthorsson, Sigurdur Sigurjonsson
  • Classification: 14A/89 minutes

rating

There are branches but none of them are olive in Under the Tree, an Icelandic drama darker than a Reykjavik winter. Apparently inspired by a real-life incident, the story starts with the titular tree. It’s blocking precious backyard sunlight, and when a pair of less-than-neighbourly middle-aged couples aren’t bickering about the shade, they’re throwing it. One of the couples is grieving over the disappearance of one adult son when another one moves back home after an ugly separation from his wife. Nobody’s happy; I counted zero smiles in 89 increasingly tense minutes. The film is shot in cool hues that match the characters’ moods. The economical score moves gradually from brooding to ominous. There’s a cat and a dog – they don’t fight, but everyone else does. The garden gnomes are hilarious; the chainsaw, not so much. Someone’s going to lose an eye when the pellet gun comes out, I just know it. This film moves from black satire to a horror-thriller so smoothly you don’t even realize it’s happening – like the proverbial slow-boiling frog. Grim stuff, gloriously so.

Under the Tree opens July 20 in Toronto.

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