Column by David Garrett
- Film: Far from the Apple Tree
- Year: 2019
- Director: Grant McPhee
- Writer: Ben Soper
- Starring: Margaret Fraser, Sorcha Groundsell and Victoria Liddelle
This was a movie that I heard about through Twitter. The account that reached out to me to check this out seemed to be doing PR and I decided that the buzz words provided peaked interest for me. I also felt this could potentially be a good review for Dark Discussions as well. The synopsis here is Judith (Sorcha Groundsell), a struggling artist, gets her dream job of working for a renowned visual artist named Roberta Roslyn (Victoria Liddelle). While cataloging her work, she is shocked to see a girl who keeps popping up that looks eerily similar to her.
Where I should lead off here is stating that this movie is quite arthouse and I think that will turn many people off. The story isn’t overly deep, but there is a lot that gets unraveled over time. It is coupled with a lot of surreal images as well.
The struggling artist we are following is Judith. She goes to a showing for the works of Roberta. The featured pieces are the same shot that are done in the woods. There is a woman in it and each shot is getting closer and closer to her turning to the camera. This really draws the attention of Judith who loses herself in what she is seeing. Roberta takes notice of this as well.
This causes Roberta to reach out to Judith. She wants to meet and has an offer for her. When Judith inquires about the details, she’s told she has to accept the offer ‘sight unseen’ which she is hesitant about. Regardless she agrees to this term which turns out to be life changing for her.
The offer is for Judith to move into Roberta’s estate. Judith is there to catalogue her work which is mostly on actual 16mm film or VHS. At the end of this residency, Roberta believes that Judith will be ready and will be given her own show. Roberta will also use all of her resources to help her with it as well. This seems like a creepy prospect though. Judith is somewhat estranged from her mother, Dawn (Margaret Fraser), and her best friend of Anne-Marie (Scarlett Mack) doesn’t think it is a great idea. Judith accepts the offer though and moves into this large estate.
It is while going through the old film; she realizes that she looks a lot like Roberta’s daughter of Maddy. Roberta believes her daughter will come back to her, but the more that Judith looks into this, the more this seems unlikely. She is also mimicking Maddy and this might lead to some interesting things the deeper she goes into all of this.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap as that is all you really need to go without spoiling things. Where I want to start here is something this movie did really well for me which is giving us subtle things that reveal more as the movie goes along. I personally find this to be good writing. The first thing is that Judith does an internet search for Roberta right after their phone call. We see that Roberta is considered an ‘occult’ artist. From here, Judith goes into an interview with her where I believe we first learn about her daughter Roberta. When Judith arrives at the mansion and the two get to learn more about each other, we get things that Roberta’s ancestors have all lived in this house and all were artists. That is the one that seemingly started their line as far as they know was a witch. I love us getting a little bit of the supernatural there and that moves into more of what we will see as we go on.
Going along with this, I really need to delve into the performance of Groundsell in this movie. She is playing the role of Judith and Maddy here. What I like is that the character of Judith works hard and trying to get her break. She isn’t doing that well though as she was rejected from the school she applied to so she could continue formal education into art. Roberta sees something in her though. She is brutally honest with her, which doesn’t help Judith who is constantly seeking validation. On the other side, Maddy is supremely confident in herself. Judith is emulating her and trying to channel this into her artwork. Roberta sees this as well. At one point it bothers her and another point it seems she is pushing her into this more. I really dug the performance that Groundsell does to play these similar, but different characters to the point that they bleed and blend into each other.
Another aspect that I really liked about this movie is how it is shot. I’ll bring it back up here, but this is an arthouse film. We have a lot of colored lights and filters that really make things surreal. I will admit the story is pretty basic aside from how you interpret the ending. Part of what we’re seeing though is Judith is sinking a bit into madness. She is losing herself into Maddy. What we’re seeing reflects this. There also could be a ritual going on, but we can’t fully trust Judith though either. I think the effects and cinematography to convey this is well done. There’s also aspect of voyeurism. We keep seeing things where Judith could be getting filmed while she works and maybe even before that. She is also watching these older videos and film of Maddy so it is another aspect there as well. If I did have a gripe, they do some digital static that I’m not a fan of. I’m forgiving here with how it is used so I won’t hold it against the movie.
Something else that really does help this is the soundtrack. We really have some interesting and trippy songs that fit what they’re doing here. It almost feels like a music video at times so the selections really do need to fit here for it to work which it did for me. There is almost an eerie vibe to it as well.
Then finally I want to briefly go over the rest of the cast. Fraser is really limited in this movie, but I love her as this rock that wants her daughter back while also giving her space. Judith does reach out as she spirals which I like. Liddelle helps in this movie for this odd artist. We don’t always know if she has the best intentions for Judith and others in her life question this as well. This works to build the mystery. Aside from that, the rest of the cast was solid and rounded this out for what was needed in my opinion.
In conclusion here, I don’t know if everyone will dig what this movie is doing. We have a story that isn’t necessarily new, but I think it is done in an arthouse way that worked for me. There is something to be said about an artist losing themselves in their work or trying to recapture that creative spark. I think that Groundsell does carry this movie as we are focusing on her with the rest of the cast pushing her to where she ends up. The effects, cinematography and soundtrack also fit for this surreal fit of the movie. If anything, I would have liked a bit more fleshed out or more into what is truly happening here, but where it ends up was interesting regardless. I would say this is an above average movie. I feel that if a bit more with the story was there, it could have gone higher for me. Still is worth a watch if you like movies like this in my opinion.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10
I should also point out. This movie was made in 2019 and has been doing some festivals since then. It does appear this movie is getting a larger release later in 2021, making this technically a 2021 release so I would keep an eye out for this if what I’ve said peaks your interest.