If there is any universal notion that proves to be wholly unerring it is that you cannot escape the past. Our actions, whether positive or negative, leave a lasting impression throughout our lives no matter how present or dormant they seem to be. Writer and director James Roday (A Million Little Things) presents this haunting theme proudly in Treehouse, his bold March episode of Hulu’s exclusive Into The Dark holiday horror anthology series.
Starring Jimmi Simpson (Westworld), Maggie Lawson (Psych), Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and Mary McCormack (The West Wing), Treehouse explores the crossing paths of a ‘glamping’ bachelorette party and celebrity chef Peter Rake who’s returned to his childhood home for a long weekend of escape. Unfortunately for Peter, an evening of wining and dining the ladies quickly turns into a dark situation fueled by vengeance and retribution. This self-centered misogynist is forced to come face-to-face with the demons of his past and pay for them, dearly. As Peter’s true persona unfolds, the women reveal some nefarious intentions of their own resulting in a night of revelations, torture, and witchcraft.
In the traditional – yet despondent – celebration of The Ides of March, Treehouse incorporates the ancient Roman celebration marking the first day of spring and a day to collect on old debts. “Beware the Ides of March” is the famous saying soothsayers warned the destructive Roman general, Julius Caesar, before his death marked this annual March holiday. Roday embraces the meaning of this obscure holiday and builds a strong story upon its solid branches. While I won’t spoil what transpires throughout Treehouse, or what a treehouse has to do with the karmic nature of the past, it is necessary to pay credit where it’s due. This episode sits high and proud as an installment of Into The Dark for many reasons, but the following factors reveal exactly what it takes to build a functional, lasting sanctuary for play and for secrecy.
A Strong, Sound Base
Jimmi Simpson is a talented character actor whose talent is attributed to film and television alike. When it comes to Treehouse, Simpson shines as an interesting, almost taboo, choice for a leading character… a leading male character. Between Roday’s writing and Simpson’s acting, Peter Rake is an eerily real character brought to life in authentic fashion. On one hand, he’s an aggressive, straight shooting, preoccupied workaholic obsessed with his star chef status and power over others. On another, he’s charming, humorous, somewhat empathetic, fun, and witty. The manner of which he perceives women casually slips into view and his disingenuous intents are easily transparent. Basically, Peter is an asshole.
Why chose such a dislikable character as the central lead? The role of Peter and his latent charisma are not only critical to the plot (someone in this story needs to learn a lesson), but relatable to viewers. We all know someone like Peter: harmless on the surface, but morally debased, responsible for his actions, but oddly venial once his laundry is laid out for all to see. He’s the type of man who needs to be addressed and identified in our society, one that should be held accountable, but often slips through the fingers of justice. Roday dares to slowly villainize the protagonist of Treehouse as the menacing mystery behind the women he’s invited into his environment begins to make its way through the dense brush.
Diverse Infrastructure and Limb Variety
Horror and the variety of sub-genres that build it up are no stranger to social commentary. Each installment of Into The Dark has drawn influence from some sort of contemporary situation or another in order to establish a clear sense of relevancy, each doing so effectively and timely. Treehouse brings the #MeToo movement to the forefront of this mysterious, ritualistic story. Once you see the forest for the trees, the true motifs and intentions Roday has crafted become shockingly clear. Given the refreshingly limited marketing and trailer reveals Into The Dark utilizes prior to each episode release, it was fun and exciting to be so surprised by what this simple horror situation had to offer.
With the dooming subtle social commentary adapted from films like Get Out and It Follows, Roday magically works an interesting spin on tropes of vengeance and comeuppance. Marching modern feminist obstacles to the surface and confronting today’s topical affairs with a confident sensitivity and awareness makes Treehouse both enjoyable and important. While it mimics similarities in pagan horror of films like The Ritual and Suspiria, Treehouse successfully roots itself within its own unique individuality.
The women of this seemingly innocent bachelorette group are not only representative of a larger demographic, but quickly steal the limelight from Peter and replace it with a spotlight. The variety of carefully written characters mixed with the entertaining factors of horror and karmic satisfaction of March’s odd holiday added to the relevancy of this episode’s theme makes for one delicious recipe… or spell, whichever you prefer to serve.
Straight and Crooked Boards
While social issues are visible branches reinforced by Treehouse’s allegorical limbs, the holiday’s metaphorical purpose remains more subdued. We have our Julius Caesar, our soothsayers appear, and even Brutus emerges once Peter is met with the hidden daggers of his past transgressions. The holiday theme is not exactly present, but rather implied. Roday keeps a steady, focused aim as far as Treehouse’s plot goes, character development being a clear window feature. It is one of the anthology’s most noticeable episodes that puts the story’s mechanics over special effects and style. Though the exposition needed some work and there were a few questionable transition choices made between scenes, not much could detract from the way Treehouse modernizes fears, both created in fiction and poised in reality.
Treehouse shelters the precious connection between simplistic horror and social relevancy. Each twist takes an interesting turn, always maintaining a darkly tongue-in-cheek tone. The primal, ritualistic practice that naturally flows from the mind of a modern-day storyteller keeps a steady, hidden pace, but ultimately brandishes a reveal that is so successfully disarming. Treehouse reaches the clearing of grey matter that consumes our society and proudly makes a declaration for empathy and equality… or else.
Have you streamed Treehouse on Hulu? What did you think of this latest addition to the Into The Dark anthology? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!