A savagely dark comedy from Iceland, Under the Tree/Undir trénu is a film to look out for
“It had nothing to do with emotion”
Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s Under the Tree (or Undir trénu in his natice Icelandic) is proof that there’s nothing so dangerous as suburbia, no matter which country you’re in. A wickedly dark, sharply comic and tensely plotted film, it scorches through the false comfort of liberal pretensions about loving your neighbour and suggests something far more unsettling about human nature.
The first crack in the veneer comes from afar. Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir’s Agnes walks in on Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson’s Atli having a hand shandy to an old sex tape of him and another woman. With nowhere left to go when she kicks him out, he moves back in with his parents in their suburban home. They are otherwise distracted though by a long-simmering dispute with their neighbours about a tree that casts a shadow over some prime sunbathing real estate.
So far so sitcom, but Sigurðsson is far too canny to leave it at this. Monika Lenczewska’s bleached out cinematography and Daníel Bjarnason’s unnerving score keep us on edge throughout. And what seem like small disputes curdle into something far more profound as Agnes excises Atli from her life and that of their daughter’s too and the feud over the tree snowballs into something really quite horrific.
At its best, Under the Tree is brutally funny, but it is often just brutal as it wends its way to its open-jawed climax. Edda Björgvinsdóttir’s Inga – the matriarch whose refusal to get out the clippers is at the heart of the film – is chillingly superb as a woman hollowed out by grief, all emotion frozen into a jagged sense of selfishness that ultimately takes no prisoners at all.