FAR FROM THE APPLE TREE *** 2019 Dir: Grant McPhee. 90 mins
Losing one’s self to a thing, entity, or a person or by medical means has been a staple of the Horror genre for centuries. Losing one’s mind and individuality have been added to the mix of digital paranoid thinking. FAR FROM THE APPLE TREE (2019) is film of loss through the gradual disintegration of mind. It is built on visual media, and that is a distraction to the film’s evolution – almost to the point of “eating its own tail ‘to get to the conclusion.
Far From the Apple Tree (2019) is directed by Grant McPhee, whose background is that of a digital image technician on many films and television series including the entire run of Outlander. The picture is written by Ben Soper, a British screenwriter/director based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He launched a successful career in cinematic music videos. Together, McPhee and Soper have crafted a film where all of these elements come into play. I mention these facts first since the actors end up being secondary to the visuals. The on screen people are most effective element of the film.
Far From the Apple Tree (2019) stars the brilliant, vulnerable Sorcha Groundsell as Judith, a struggling visual artist who lands her dream job of working for a renowned visual artist named Roberta Roslyn (Victoria Liddelle), who happens to spot her at a show. Judith’s new job allows her the opportunity to view and catalogue Roberta’s work. Judith is told to ‘accept the offer before hearing it,’ by Roberta, alluding to the total obedience to come. Judith moves in with Roberta and her housekeeper on a remote estate. While working on material, Judith discovers fragments of film of a mysterious woman who looks very much like herself. The woman is revealed to be Roberta’s missing daughter Maddy, whose presence permeates the archive. Roberta informs her “That Maddy is coming home.” Judith is promised time to work on her own art and will have an exhibition with the blessing of Roberta and her friends.
Judith becomes engrossed in investigating Maddy and begins to take on the missing girl’s persona. The persona gives Judith a level of inspiration for her own work that she has never had before. Judith is left with a choice of losing herself or a return to her old life.
FAR FROM THE APPLE TREE (2019) is not a supernatural story but a battle of wills between Roberta, who wants her daughter back, and Judith, who wants to be successful as a visual artist, no matter the cost. There are influences of REBECCA (1940), even a smattering of REPULSION (1965) in the film, coupled with a myriad of visual effects. Effects such as shooting in 16 mm, Pixel vision, flowing steady cam, and Betamax to package this film about visual art as Art. The format changes, the editing, the music blend to distort the world. Unfortunately, after a time they become a distraction. The visuals become the story and simple packaging in some cases mars sensitive work.
The cast is small but effective, and endeavor to overcome the visuals, particularly Sorcha Groundsell as Judith. Judith projects naivety well and the reawakening of her artistic power at the hands of Maddy. Throughout she does tend to put her hands to her face quite a bit as she gets a new revelation. Judith has a lovely moment when she is explaining her new job to her mother (Margaret Fraser). The world closes in, and it is her Mother that becomes the lynch pin to her old life.
Victoria Liddlelle as the scheming artist/mother Roberta projects a parental menace on Judith as she insinuates Maddy into Judith’s life in subtle ways. The roles control the actions, not as a presence on screen over Judith but a controller of the fans of her work and the world Judith wants to enter.
FAR FROM THE TREE (2019) is an interesting look at control through art and dreams. It is flawed in that the media itself becomes the message; the story is lost to the dominating, overplayed visuals. There is some sixties influence, since many of the music and visual artists at that time took psychedelics to access new spiritual experiences. That hasn’t changed in the film makers’ view as the music video and the digital image technician backgrounds create what is seen in the film. Art becomes weaponized, and Judith is left to ponder which way to go. The film does seem to be “eating its own tail.”
Review by Terry Sherwood
FAR FROM THE APPLE TREE IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON