Until the U.S. release of Lars von Trier’s latest provocation The House That Jack Built, aficionados of Nordic misery and gloom can content themselves with Under the Tree. Icelandic filmmaker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson is best known as the writer-director of Either Way, which David Gordon Green remade here as Prince Avalanche. That movie centered on two isolated figures adrift in an empty landscape. On a parallel track, Under the Tree isolates its characters by stifling them in a suburban wasteland.
According to Sigurðsson, you can’t escape from ennui in Iceland no matter where you live. Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) and Agnes’ (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) marriage is on the rocks. She catches him masturbating to homemade porn he’s made of an ex-girlfriend and kicks him out of their apartment. When Atli shows up at his parents’ townhouse, he finds that his mother Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) has started a blood feud with the neighbors. Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) and Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) are the childless couple next door who had politely asked Inga’s husband Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) to trim the tree that’s casting a shadow into their backyard. This small request escalates into a battle of wills that doesn’t end well. A madness has infected Inga and all the members of her family tree. It’s gone rotten but someone’s poised and ready to chop it down.
Opens Friday at Landmark’s Opera Plaza.