Strong visuals and a cohesive ensemble cast provide Trim Season with some real highs.
Synopsis: A group of young people go to a remote marijuana farm where they hope to make quick cash. But, they discover the location’s dark secrets and now must try to escape the mountain on which they are trapped.
When we are first introduced to Emma (Bethlehem Million) she is facing another setback in her life. Her cracked mobile phone and car windshield are all indications that she is struggling with finances. More of her problem, however, is her overall lack of control and ability to speak out for what she really wants and believes. Taking comfort in Jules (Alex Essoe) on a night out, the pair are introduced to friend-of-a-friend James (Marc Senter) who offers them a quick way to make money on a marijuana farm. As they travel to the farm, they are introduced to others taking the opportunity, but the farm appears to be home to a dark secret.
Trim Season utilises its ensemble cast to great effect, grouping the characters as all in a similar situation – desperate for money and also, to some extent, struggling with their identity. Early in the film, it is established that the job is potentially dangerous, taking place in a near-lawless space with few opportunities to access help if required. The fact that the group is, for the most part female (with one non-binary character) is intentional on part of the farmers, with the belief that women are perceived as less trouble and easier to control through fear. This makes the development of the characters all the more satisfying as those perceptions are challenged. Dusty (Bex Taylor-Klaus) even as a non-binary character suffers from being perceived in gendered terms in one of the film’s most refreshingly representative scenes.
Director Ariel Vida’s production design experience really shines with the initial soft-focus of the establishing scenes giving way to a more vibrant descent into hellish behaviour and visuals. Initial scenes contain a softness which is soon lost, with the surrounding forest taking on a more threatening aura as the film develops. While some may struggle with the slower pace at the outset the film grows considerably in intensity and truly delivers on gorier set pieces in later acts. A perfectly designed scene ruptures all of the scene setting, plunging the viewer into outright horror in a way that feels genuinely unsettling. From that point on, it feels like no one is safe, punctuated by increasingly discombobulated edits and a drastic increase in pace. Jane Badler offers a captivating performance as farm owner Mona, who straddles sophistication and strictness, prone to harsh treatment delivered in matter-of-fact ways.
Arguably more impressive than the film’s striking visuals is how everything is tied to the wider themes and that character-building. This is a film that cares about its characters and that is felt throughout. Emma’s lack of control over her life is echoed throughout the film and it is to Bethlehem Million’s credit that she makes this work so naturally. Emma is not weak or naive, so her struggle to fully vocalise her needs and wants in order to take control feels more nuanced. Ally Ioannides delivers an excellent performance as outspoken stoner Harriet, whose bold nature contrasts with Emma’s, the pair clashing while also attempting to find common ground.
Wrestling complex themes around control and gendered perception into a genuinely disturbing film that delivers on the horror elements, Trim Season is beautifully realised and confident film making.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Trim Season screened as part of the 2023 Overlook Film Festival.