Neighbors suck. They’re loud. They complain. They get in your business. They fight, bicker, air their laundry (not the sexy stuff) in front of you, and offer nothing of value to anyone’s lives ever. The best kinds of neighbors are the ones you never know are there. Sure, they might be chopping up bodies in the basement, but at least they keep their lawn in order.
Under the Tree is a not about nice, quiet neighbors. No, it follows the worst kind of neighbors in a steadily escalating game of awfulness that can only have one logical conclusion. And it holds nothing back.
Under the Tree
Director: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
Release Date: July 6, 2018 (Limited)
This freight train of fuckery lurches out of the station when the titular tree blocks the sun on Eybjorg’s (Selma Björnsdóttir) patio where she tans. She and her husband share a yard with Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) and Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), an older couple, in this loft community. The tree is in Agnes’s part of the yard, and she refuses to have it trimmed. Agnes is obstinate and cold as they come. Within ten minutes, she’s throwing a bag of dog shit at Eybjorg, and she shows no remorse, no desire to back down. She only spits insults at her neighbors and her family, fixed to her own hatred.
Her son, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) also lives in the community with his wife, Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir). She catches him masturbating to a video of himself and an old girlfriend and kicks him out, which puts him back with his parents. He gets aggressive, follows Inga to work, and takes their kid from school, handling the situation in the worst possible way.
And this will be the main sticking point for viewers. These are some terrible people. They run on a scale from kind of crappy to evil incarnate, but none are exactly likable. No one displays much internal emotion with the exception of a few outbursts later in the movie, and Sigurðsson uses the setting as a great way retrieve characters’ backstories and motivations through gossip and attempts to defame and hurt them. These can humanize people like Agnes and Atli to an extent but never acquits them of their actions.
Under the Tree meanders at the start, with a constant barrage of uncomfortable scenarios that don’t hint at meshing into something cohesive. No one seems to be learning anything, and their individual actions aren’t big enough to lead to a satisfying conclusion.
But when the wheels do come off, they go careening through five lanes of traffic on a wave of sparks and broken metal. Sigurðsson takes a decidedly darker than expected turn, and it pays off. Inner demons are on full display, breaking points are shot straight past, and no one walks away undamaged. And the closing stinger is absolutely perfect.
If you have the patience and enjoy watching shitty people act awful to each other, you’re going to find a real gem here.