In 1929, an expedition of university botanists enter an uncharted forest where they discover, and must escape an ancient organism.
Sasha Louis Vukovic
Sasha Louis Vukovic
Teresa Marie Doran
Miles G. Jackson
In the history of film (I’ll admit I’m not perfectly versed in all things of this sub-genre) there have been but a few “killer plants” movies – and even fewer good ones. Obviously, we can mention the two versions of Little Shop of Horrors (I prefer the Frank Oz-directed musical) and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (which I despised). And we can perhaps throw in “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” from Romero’s classic Creepshow as well as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which are both technically sci-fi pieces – these spores are definitely not local). Oh, and The Ruins was pretty memorable.
Certainly, there have been wonderful examples of “nature run amok” films, but generally, they involved animals (rabbits, spiders, frogs and the like).
Plant horror just doesn’t get much airplay – and Flora has just helped to illustrate why.
It can be boring.
It’s 1929 and a group of university botany students go into the remote woods for a months-long expedition. When they arrive, they find their professor missing and lots of clues that they may be in danger. As they learn more and study the flora of the surrounding forest – it’ll become clear that they must escape this place as soon as possible.
The film is a period piece, which allows for some creative costuming, props and even an old-timey automobile. Kudos to the production designer. All of those technical aspects are sold quite well.
Since the majority of the film is shot outside (at some points, near a raging waterfall), you’ll accept the fact that there was probably a lot of ADR in post-production for Flora. What isn’t acceptable, is that it’s bad ADR. Voices were not always synced up with the actor’s mouths, and many times, the levels were all over the place. Some points even sounded like the actors were yelling, when there was nothing within the scene to necessitate a raised voice. It was quite distracting.
And on the note of distracting, some of the camerawork was near-nauseating. I get that the opening scene of a classic jalopy, bumbling over dirt paths in the forest – would be quite the bumpy ride – but when these scenes are the introduction to three of the lead characters – it’s simply a bad idea. The viewer is unable to focus on what they’re saying, since our eyeballs are trying to keep the picture in order.
There are other moments throughout which felt amateurish as far as camerawork. A lot of seemingly non-Steadicam, “realistic” camera running felt awkward. And it’s a shame, since so many other moments (particularly an overhead shot of the camp as the students bustle about) are gorgeous and inspiring.
And that’s another thing to praise about Flora. The deep forest locations and certainly the featured, abandoned mill – are stunning. And it’s all nicely captured by the cinematographer.
Those few positives aside, the film is dreadfully slow and long. I’ve said in previous cases that some films could be cut to a short film and nothing would be lost. I won’t go as far as to throw that at Flora – it needs to be a feature – but at least 20 minutes could have been trimmed from the film. And who knows, perhaps that would have changed my opinion somewhat.
First suggestion to cut? The multiple extended montage scenes. When these dialogue-less sequences come every fifteen minutes or so – they begin to feel like filler. They’re unnecessary (certainly at the lengths currently shown). Traveling by canoe down the river. Walking through the woods. Preparing to depart for safety. Once these things are established, and we get a sense of what each character is doing – that’s enough. Again – some serious filler here and a super-easy (and frankly obvious) way to trim some of the fat.
Performances are generally not good, although the two female actors in the ensemble (Sari Mercer and Teresa Marie Doran) each have some promising moments – in what are otherwise lackluster performances overall.
The worst of the bunch is Caleb Noel as the psuedo-leader of the group – Haviland. There are so few moments where he doesn’t completely chew the scenery – you’ll quickly begin to wonder why such odd choices were made. The rest of the cast isn’t great by any means, but they never feel melodramatic or totally unrealistic. Noel’s performance feels out of place in the overall tone of the film.
Another qualm: There’s so little history behind the characters. We get some basic exposition from two characters – very late in the film – and it’s terribly out of place as the climax fast approaches. Where was this information at the beginning?
On that note, there’s no one to root for – and out of six main characters – that’s a big fail. There is not one central character for the audience to latch onto. In a film like this, it’s not unreasonable to have one particular person to follow – seeing all of these wacky events through their eyes. Trying to focus on a large ensemble and not making it work – leaves us caring for none of them. Eventually, a central character will semi-reveal themselves, but it’s just too late. We needed to be on board with them from the get-go.
The film is never suspenseful or scary or exciting (other than the moment seemingly inspired by The Wizard of Oz “poppy-field” scene).
The thing is, I think it’s a decent concept – and if the focus had changed from the dangers of the plants (making that incidental) to the psychological fallout from this seclusion and danger – and how the characters react to the events and one another – it could have been a winner. It could have taken a cue from such ensemble/isolation films like The Thing – and it would have been a far better experience.
I can recommend the film only for some of the camerawork, the lush locations and a very good (if somewhat repetitive) score from Nathan Prillaman.
What I can’t recommend are the stale characters, not-so-great performances and dreadful pacing.
Bottom line: Watching Flora is as boring as watching paint dry. Or perhaps a more appropriate phrase might be: Watching Flora is as boring as watching plants grow.
And here I am, still waiting for a killer plant movie with a promising seed of an idea. Ahem.
Flora was up for several awards at Filmquest, including Best Lead Actor in a Feature for Dan Lin, Best Supporting Actress in a Feature for Teresa Marie Dorat, Best Cinematography for a Feature, Best Production Design for a Feature, Best Costumes for a Feature, Best Score for a Feature (which it won), Best Makeup and Best Ensemble Cast for a Feature.
Flora is still on the festival circuit, so no wider release information is currently available.