Into the Dark Treehouse Review

(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)

Blumhouse and Hulu’s Into The Dark series strategically kicked off with a string of prominent holidays – Halloween clear through Valentine’s Day – but March poses a definition-less challenge. One met by filmmaker James Roday, who (rather responsibly) adapts “Ides of March” betrayal for the “#MeToo” era. Treehouse bleeds modern relevance and promotes endless discussion. Shockingly poignant, deeply enraged, and flaunts a hard stance – both legs braced – without needing undignified rape-revenge to make a point. A theme I bring up because this (often cheap, manipulative) crutch is leaned upon by too many similar but lesser tales.

Treehouse is appropriately angry, repurposes rhetoric such as “draining the swamp” and “bad hombre,” but most importantly shows how reprogramming is an option: a counterbalance to the “Cancel First” generation that still so expressively voices this seismic need for change while still honoring the most complicated folds of our human condition.

Jimmi Simpson stars as celebrity chef Peter Rake, who finds himself embroiled in tabloid controversy. The divorced father retreats to his lavish family vacation estate in an attempt to let accusations blow over, joined by sister Gwen (Amanda Walsh) and elderly groundskeeper Agnes (Nancy Linehan Charles) – until Gwen is called away by work (now an accomplished District Attorney). Left to his own devices, Peter ends up inviting a neighboring bachelorette party over for dinner and gets stumbly drunk. He excuses himself, extends further hospitality, but upon waking, Peter realizes there’s no escaping your past.

As we learn, Peter’s worried about accusations found in a “search engine” that date back multiple years. Simpson’s performance – since we first meet Peter amidst taping his latest in-kitchen reality show – is arrogant, self-obsessed, and driven by that oh so privileged “do no wrong” charm. He loves his daughter, his most “precious cargo,” yet when women claim the forceful culinary genius harassed them, he shields excuse upon excuse. “Two sides to every story,” or, “I was a drunk teenager,” or, “she came onto me.” Rake’s outbursts and cuss-filled deflections seethe with volatility as a man who’s convinced himself he’s done nothing wrong to sleep better at night.

Something his victims cannot do.

Enter the film’s titular “Treehouse,” this Shire-esque getaway where Peter and Gwen used to play by themselves. It’s a mysterious location Peter distances himself from, now draped with a foreboding mask on the front door. We know something bad happened here – Peter’s dead-stop while jogging – and that’s what the bachelorette party intends to redeem. Right, because a roving convertible full of attractive women happen to cross paths with Peter in the middle of relative nowhere? No. Kara Wheeler (Julianna Guill) and her dinner guests are anything but courteous “Woo!” Girls.

Peter launches verbal assaults at the women after he regains consciousness chained to a bed, calling them “bitches” at one point. Their response? “We’re not angry bitches; we’re angry witches!” Cue open palms that ignite like lighters. What a fantastic genre-fried moment.

Treehouse is rife with coven imagery staged by production designer Charlie Campbell and captured by cinematographer Amanda Treyz. Wicker totems washed in red stage lighting drip slick streams of blood. Freed peacocks squawk in Peter’s face. Pure white robes drape five black magic practitioners who cackle over Peter’s paralyzed womanizer. Roday’s most significant advantage is not having festive decor act like a shackle, opening views to springtime brightness and witchcraft hallmarks played out by ritualistic masks as Peter’s stalked around mansion grounds. All tied by a Celtic tattoo of sisterhood, voodoo spasms, and woodland cult accents.

One by one the witches reveal their singular motivations. Stephanie Beatriz a Puerto Rican firestarter honoring the female workers Peter underpays, fraternizes with, and fires. Shaunette Renée Wilson and Mary McCormack improv a journalist’s interaction with Peter that ends with his lip being bitten after unwanted kissing (“She flirted with me!” vs. “She showed up with a LEGAL PAD!”). Wheeler’s character with the most important reason – her sister committed suicide after years of being called a liar, denied the justice for Peter’s actions in that goddamn treehouse so many years ago. Not believed, failed by toxic masculinity, and defined by pain that Peter washes away after being taught nothing else.

Roday’s messaging succeeds on so many fronts in Treehouse. “It wasn’t always this easy to lean on each other,” Agnes tells Peter’s dinner party. There’s empowerment in the fact that Peter is scared into the belief that he’s been overseer cursed – that Kara’s disciples are “always watching.” Agnes’ tragedy at the hand of Peter’s father tracks abuse back to teachings, old-world attitudes, and misogyny that’s lit ablaze by these sledgehammers to society – but Peter lives. Hence the film’s biggest takeaway. Watching Simpson’s character process, internalize, and reach epiphany is infinitely more rewarding than death by hex or Medieval weapon. Peter chooses to confess, internalize, and see from each woman’s perspective, ultimately opening that pool to those he failed.

“Are you dying,” asks Peter’s daughter as a visibly shattered Simpson plays the hell out of guilt-stricken remorse upon being granted a second chance. “Maybe I should have,” says a man whose past is now part of him. “I’ve taken for granted how precious you are,” he continues through choked-back tears, “…and you let me get away with it every time.” Admission, in full perspective. “I don’t want you to do that anymore. Not for me. Not for any man.” That moment, right there, is the moment where Into The Dark killed me.

As a horror story Treehouse is appropriately fearsome, features some genuinely chilling home invasion panic shots, and draws a phenomenally tortured role out of Jimmi Simpson. As a mirror to society, it’s as rage-fueled and barbed by reprehensible actions that continue to exist but will be tolerated no longer (absolutely love when a tattooed gardener quips “We’re watching!” while Peter’s captors sip mimosas elsewhere). As a beacon of rebuilding? There is – at least – a glimmering hope that people can transform as gender equality and treatment balance at long last. Peter Rake shouldn’t be excused or praised for owning guilt, but those who retain humanity can and will experience the gut-rot gravity of their actions. One by one passing that demonstrative reality, spreading the antivirus from within.

/Film rating: 8.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Matt is an NYC internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking about cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don't feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged).