For the longest time, weed has taken a back burner in our genre. When I think about bud-based horror films, I can really only think of the very low-budget films like Evil Bong and Halloweed. Alcohol has long played an integral part in horror, and I think it’s about damn time marijuana gets on the same playing field. How do you make weed scary? Weed is used to relax people, to put you in a state of Zen (unless you’re one of the people who gets paranoid by it), so putting it in a horror film kind of makes sense. Hell, one of my favorite horror icons from childhood was a pothead; I’m talking Shaggy.
When I first heard of Trim Season I didn’t really do much research on it. I heard some buzz about it, and knew it had something to do with weed. To be completely honest, I was expecting some lighthearted horror comedy about a bunch of people who go into the woods to trim some bud, get a bad strain, and things go south…but in like a fun way. It seemed like it was going to be a film you could spark up with some buddies, laugh through an amusing horror comedy and forget about the day. Trim Season is not a popcorn flick. Trim Season is so much more than that. Maybe I should have read the description before going into it, but I think I’m glad I didn’t. When you are expecting laughs, and get the opposite, you can really get sucked in deeper than anticipated.
Jobless and searching for direction, Trim Season follows a group of diverse twenty-somethings from Los Angeles as they head up the coast to make quick cash trimming marijuana on a secluded farm in Northern California. Cut off from the rest of the world, they soon realize that the estate is harboring darker secrets than any of them could imagine, as they race against time to escape the dense woods with their lives.
Trim Season will ask a lot of its audience, and it’s up to you if you want to take that ride or not. There is quite a bit of ambiguity behind the film. The story itself is engaging but it’s the lore that really caught me. I personally love ambiguity, and this film is teeming with it. You will have to accept what you are shown, whether you question it or just accept is a different story. Not everything needs to be completely spelled out, sometimes it’s nice to be forced to accept an idea in a film without any backstory. Writers Ariel Vida and David Blair (based on a story by Sean E. DeMott, Cullen Poythress, and Megan Sutherland) really crafted a compelling story with some really well thought out elements of horror.
Visually this film is a delight. At times it feels carefree, almost hippy-like, while at other times it can feel tense and visceral. On top of writing, Ariel Vida also helmed this project as director. With this being Vida’s second feature film, it’s really quite impressive. I just recently played The Chant and Trim Season really feels spiritually connected to it in some ways. Vida’s direction works well with Luka Bazeli’s cinematography. The film starts off without any pizzazz, easing the viewer into an almost trance. Slowly the film decays into trippy madness with tighter shots, used to emphasize some sort of euphoric madness. By the end of the film you are inundated with more closeups and spacious symmetry, and these two extremes juxtapose themselves in a jarringly beautiful way. Add on top of that there’s the overuse of reds and oranges, giving the film an overall insidious feeling deep within its roots.
The acting here is fairly solid, and the excellent cast does not make waste. Emma (Bethlehem Million), Julia (Alex Essoe), and Lex (Juliette Kenn De Balinthazy) take the main stage as our group of trimmers, with Harriet (Ally Ioannides) and Dusty (Bex Taylor-Klaus) rounding them out as support. While the trimmers are all great, this film would be nothing without one of my new favorite antagonists in horror, Mona (Jane Badler). Badler just chews up the scenery, making you crave her character more and more. It got to the point where I wanted the trimmers to screw up in some way, just to see what Mona would do in retaliation.
The blood and gore aren’t overused to any extent, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. There is a great mixture between the horror and story elements. Kelly Donahue (V/H/S/99, Sick) really excels as the special makeup effects artist, Trim Season is heavy on practical effects and every one looks slick and gnarly. Some of the practicals look a little too real at points.
A horror film is really nothing without a good score. Upon looking at the credits of Trim Season I noticed the composer’s name, Joseph Bishara, sounded familiar. Oh, right, it’s the person who composed the scores to films like Malignant, Insidious, The Conjuring, and so much more. Taking a mental trip back to some of those films, their respective scores are all equally iconic. When I think specifically of horror scores, Insidious is one that has always stuck out to me. Those jarring violin runs ruined my dreams for quite some time. What’s interesting is how restrained and subtle the score for Trim Season is. There are times when we get a slow and melodic score, while other times the score roots itself deep within your psyche. It’s one of the best scores of a horror film I’ve heard in a few years.
Trim Season is produced by Paper Street Pictures, the boutique production house started by Aaron B. Koontz. Paper Street Pictures has been on a roll recently with some of my favorite films of last year, including Emily Hagin’s Sorry About the Demon. Paper Street Pictures is slowly placing itself further and further into the annals of horror, and we are all lucky to be a part of it. They specialize in high-concept genre films, and I think that term could turn some people off; I think it’s the perfect phrase.
The term “elevated horror” has been coopted and made into a negative phrase. High-concept films generally have the emotional stakes of elevated horror films, while also staying grounded and not inflating their own ego. Trim Season is the perfect example of high-concept horror, heh. It’s beautifully shot, there are deep character connections, it’s methodical, but at its core it’s incredibly engaging and refreshing. There are some bits of social commentary throughout it, you just don’t get beaten over the head with it. If you want to find it you will, if you want to avoid it then it doesn’t affect the viewing experience. Trim Season lies in the accessible horror category for me, personally. It’s not over the top in any way and can easily be consumed, but there is also enough great moments of horror to please a diehard genre fan.