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Nightstream 2021: The Greenhouse Explores Grief Through Time Travel

Nightstream is a collaborative virtual film festival that started in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues this year and is being presented by the Boston Underground Film Festival, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, North Bend Film Festival, and The Overlook Film Festival. Proceeds from the festival go to the filmmakers and also to several charities. I highly suggest checking out their website for more info on the event. A variety of films include feature-length productions and shorts are scheduled. The following review contains spoilers, so reader beware!

The Greenhouse, an Australian sci-fi drama directed and written by Thomas Wilson-White, follows Beth as the only adult sibling who still lives at home. Her mother, Ruth, is about to turn 60, and her daughter wants to make it special by having the whole family attend. They are still mourning the loss of their other mother, Lillian. 

I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at how many queer characters are in this film. There are the lesbian mothers, Beth has dated both men and women, and Drew is nervous about bringing his new boyfriend Ryan around the family. It’s important that queer characters are given the same variety of roles because we’re just normal folks living our lives. They joke about being adopted and how schoolkids made up a song about their moms going to hell. It’s a really fun family dynamic. As for the family, they’ve all grown distant for a variety of reasons. Raf works in the medical field, and Doonie is a TV actor on a show like Law & Order. The death of Lillian no doubt added to this scattering. 

As Ruth’s party approaches, Beth becomes sullen and deals with insomnia. One night, she awakens and follows a fog to a mysterious greenhouse in the yard. At the back lies a door, the same front door to their house. This is her portal to the past, letting her see how bright and happy everyone was. All the adult actors portray their younger selves. Beth is unable to interact with them directly, and when she touches Lillian’s face, her mother freezes up until Beth takes her hand away.

Drew, Beth, Boonie and Raf stand together in the woods looking at something behind the camera
Drew (Shiv Palekar), Beth (Jane Watt), Doonie (Kirsty Marillier) and Raf (Joel Horwood).

The next night she finds Ruth has been using the greenhouse as well, but something goes wrong, and a huge crack appears in the ceiling of the past house. Ruth proclaims that the two of them should not be in there together and not to blame her when it all goes to sh*t. Beth is undeterred. 

She continues to use the greenhouse, and we see some pretty emotional memories of Beth breaking up with her girlfriend on the day of Lillian’s funeral. There’s quite a touching shot of all the kids and Ruth lying together in bed wearing their funeral attire. One by one, they all move out and continue their lives, while Beth remains behind to fulfill a promise to look after Ruth. No matter how much Beth regrets her actions, there is nothing she can do but come to terms with it. I didn’t expect to cry today, but man, The Greenhouse really got to me! I haven’t seen my family in several years because of the ongoing pandemic, but I think I might call them tonight.

Family is complicated, and we all deal with grief differently. You never truly move on, you just learn how to deal with it as best you can. Without Beth, Ruth would be totally alone in a huge house, so I understand her wanting to stay even if it puts her own life on hold.

Generally, time travel is a lonely concept usually involving one character. To have mother and daughter both experience it and even discuss it opens a whole new layer up to exploration. Then Ruth leaves, telling her children not to follow her. So, of course, they do—into the greenhouse. I don’t want to completely spoil the climax, but all of the kids help each other through this weird situation, and they come out stronger because of it. They realize they don’t need to deal with stuff alone. It’s okay to ask for help.

Finding mysterious phenomena and testing it out is like leaving out a beautiful meal—it’s pretty hard to resist trying it. Then, oops, it’s delicious (it lets me travel through time with seemingly no repercussions) until you get caught or have stomach issues. I know I would be tempted; I have many regrets about relatives who have passed away. Plus, any fallback is a problem for future me!

Time travel in films is really interesting because you can go full Primer where they go through every minor detail for how it works, or you go Time Crime: it’s too complicated, it doesn’t matter! That’s not what the story is about. It’s merely a tool to explore things like memories and regret—which is another thing I love about sci-fi, that it sounds so big and complex, but it’s essentially just people. I also love the use of fog to indicate their passage through time. It’s simple and immediately understood. 

At times, The Greenhouse can be a fairly heavy watch, especially if you are dealing with a recent loss. It’s brilliant in all aspects: acting, cinematography, story. I’m glad I got to see it. But now I need a hug.

Nightstream is an online event taking place from October 7th through the 13th.

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Written by Lor Gislason

Lor is a body horror enthusiast from Vancouver Island, Canada. Their first novella, INSIDE OUT, releases in Fall 2022 from D&T Publishing. Find them on twitter @lorelli_

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