10th August 2018 (UK)
When Baldwin and Inga's next door neighbours complain that a tree in their backyard casts a shadow over their sundeck, what starts off as a typical spat between neighbours in the suburbs unexpectedly and violently spirals out of control.
Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson, Edda Björgvinsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson
In Icelandic dark comedy drama Under The Tree, the problems are much deeper rooted than some overgrown foliage.
After being caught cheating, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) moves back in with his mother Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) and father Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson). Upon arrival, Atli finds them embroiled in a bitter battle with neighbours Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) regarding a tree in their back garden which is apparently overhanging into Konrad’s yard. As the back and forth spat escalates, the eventual outcome of the argument will be far more tragic than either could have possibly imagined.
Playing out much like a smaller scale War of the Roses with the drier-than-bark humour of Heathers, Under The Tree succeeds thanks to its stellar performances and grounded character types, most of which are thoroughly (and enjoyably) unlikable. Atli is a spoiled man child who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get his own way which frequently results in some rather disturbing behaviour towards his now-ex girlfriend Agnes as he essentially bullies her to take him back, while his mother Inga is more blunt than a butter knife in both her verbal replies and courses of action against the neighbours. The long-suffering father, Baldvin, just wants a quiet life but with a family like this, it’s unlikely to happen and feels the best way to go about it is to simply keep quiet. Big mistake.
Under The Tree is a wildly unpredictable film, taking evermore darker turns with each move of retaliation between the neighbours. Edda Björgvinsdóttir is sublime as Inga, who is clearly channelling her pain from other aspects of her personal life onto the baffled neighbours.
The whole affair is tinged with sadness, but there’s an undeniable playfulness too as you wonder what lengths they will go to for the sake of a tree. I can guarantee you won’t be laughing by the conclusion though as the film firmly plants itself as a more sombre drama in the last 20 minutes or so, causing you to reflect on how things got this bad – and what could (or should) have been done sooner to stop it.
Deliciously dark comedy
Enjoyably unlikable characters
Its frequent tonal shifts may be off-putting for those looking for a more comedic story