Tree (2007) – By Joshua Samford

 It has been nearly a year since I was contacted about writing a review for Michael Steinbeck’s first film, Green Eyes For Anastice. Green Eyes, to this day, remains one of my favorite films submitted to me via Rogue Cinema. With many independent films, a lot of filmmakers get locked into making genre pictures – because without a doubt that’s probably the best way to get noticed in a relatively easy manner. Making a gory horror film, if you can punch it up with more grotesque FX than the guy in the booth down the street – you stand a good chance of making a small cult film in at least some corners of the market. However, the films that really catch my attention along the way are the filmmakers who go out of their way to defy their budget and to use as much cinematic wizardry as they can in order to deliver a film that doesn’t show the budgetary constraints that it has but shows you all of the crafty ingenuity that develops when you have a lot of creative people working together for a common goal. Green Eyes For Anastice was the best case of this I think I have seen come through my RC inbox. It was a feature film, shot on a very indie budget, dealing with time travel. I can’t help but compliment Michael on having the guts to tackle such a "big budget" concept but still managing to pull it off without letting the audience in on the man behind the curtain, more or less. With Tree, Michael and Nicholas P. Richard (who lead the cast in Green Eyes, and is credited alongside Steinbeck as cinematographer here) both show TREMENDOUS growth and deliver a film that is so much more polished and beautiful in it’s presentation that I can’t help but really feel impressed. I know by now I sound like a broken record with nothing but praises, but the quality of the digital video and the presentation of their film is just leaps and bounds ahead of their previous work (which I thought looked pretty great even then) and they show how much one filmmaker can improve from one work to the next.

Tree tells the story of a small family, lead by the father Tom his wife Ellie along with their daughter Katie, who move into an old farmhouse recently vacated by Ellie’s uncle who passed on. His death was just your average from old age, but it was the location of his death that makes the audience question the normalcy of the occasion. While chopping wood out underneath the oldest tree on the property. Seemingly a pretty normal tree, but when the film you are watching is actually title "The Tree", you should know to take down some second guesses. It isn’t long before Tom is out cutting wood himself, under that very tree, where he begins to see visions. Visions of his daughter running across the lawn wearing a white dress with a pink ribbon. Visions of himself in a casket and his family crying. Tom tries to dismiss these visions, but after his daughter begins to see her own – and they start coming true; he begins to grow paranoid. Now Tom is in a race against the clock to figure a way out of what he sees as his own death slowly creeping towards him.

Tree truly is more of a "mini-feature" than simply a short film, since it is only about twenty or thirty minutes shy of feature film running length. This gives the film a very smooth and ever-moving pace that lets the audience keep in tune with the filmmakers. Tree tends to be a step-up in all directions for Steinbeck. From the way the film looks, to an evolution in his love for films based around the concept of moving time and right down to the acting and his use of the sets. Tree looks like it had a much larger budget than I imagine that it did, mostly due to the filmmakers making use of the farm setting that the film takes place in and around this small rural town. It gives the film a sense of reality and gives the characters depth in return as we see our leading man having to take over this business he obviously knows little about – and seeing him having to go through the struggles the whole time. The quality of acting in Tree is just phenomenal. Green Eyes For Anastice, although the acting was good enough that the story was able to tell itself and the audience were not taken out of the context of what the film provided – Tree is just leaps and bounds ahead. The only complaint I could have with any performance in the film is that Tom sometimes speaks his lines so low that the audience has trouble hearing them, but that very well could have been a mic issue. The performances are just spot on and completely professional all the way around. Even from the child! That right there is quite the accomplishment for such a young set of filmmakers.

So, what can I say, Michael R. Steinbeck is turning into quite the reliable filmmaker and with this he proved that Green Eyes was no fluke and that he has a lot to say. I certainly see him sticking around to tell us all about it too. To see the trailer and read up on the movie, visit http://www.thetreemovie.com – and check it out as soon as you can, you don’t want to miss out on this guy’s work.