Tribeca Film Festival Part 2: OH CHRISTMAS TREE; BEACON

A man and girl look across at each other in a candlelit room
[L-R] Mark Duplass as BEN, Ora Duplass as CLAIRE in OH CHRISTMAS TREE

OH CHRISTMAS TREE, directed by Katie Aselton, written by Mark Duplass

Master of the twofer Mark Duplass co-stars in this family affair short, along with daughter Ora Duplass and directed by spouse Katie Aselton.

Ben (Mark Duplass) and his daughter Claire (Ora Duplass) indulge in all their favorite holiday traditions. They sing Christmas carols, despite not knowing all the lyrics. They go sledding on a snowless hill, figuring out the best way to glide on dirt. But underneath the air of revelry, a mysterious weight lies heavy, threatening to bring painful emotions to the surface. We witness Claire in the bathroom, taking deep breaths, as if gearing herself to fake enthusiasm.

Later, over a delicious looking meal of spaghetti and buttered Wonder Bread, the tone begins to change from joyful holiday to bleak midwinter. Claire takes the plunge and prepares to have a heart-to-heart talk with her father, with surprising results.

Mark Duplass truly excels at crafting delicious tension with these types of situations. He produces projects like BLUE JAY, THE ONE I LOVE, and BIOSPHERE, that allow a character to channel various emotions. In all of these films, two characters spend extensive time together, bringing difficult truths to the surface.

Unfortunately, OH CHRISTMAS TREE lacks his signature punch. By nature, shorts have less time to fill, so the contents need to grab viewers' attention quickly. You might call it a needle drop, a mark, or a little touch of pixie dust. But it's the reason the short exists – an idea that's dropped like a bomb, leaving the audience a little breathless. OH CHRISTMAS TREE lacks this big idea. I think the short would have gone well to add in five more minutes to drive home the big idea.

It brings me no joy to write this review as an avid admirer of Duplass' work.

Screening in its World Premiere during Tribeca Film Festival 2024 in the Shorts section. See film detail page for screening options.

Release info: Unknown at this time

Final score: 2.5 out of 5

A man sits in front of a candle with a girl watching
Julia Goldani Telles as EMILY, Demian Bichir as ISMAEL in BEACON

BEACON, directed by Roxy Shih, written by Julio Rojas

I'm a sucker for sea stories that engage the senses with their creepy atmosphere, mood, and tone. So, the logline of BEACON had me hooked. This lighthouse thriller about two souls forced to live in cramped quarters and struggling to trust one another sounded right up my alley. Unfortunately, the production design and acting fail to impress.

Emily (Julia Goldani Telles) decides to circumnavigate the globe, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather before her. She plans to go around Cape Horn, the Southernmost tip of South America, using the old-fashioned methods of charts and stars. A storm leaves her stranded and injured off the coast of the Magdalena Island Lighthouse, under the care of lighthouse keeper Ismael (Demián Bichir). Ismael claims he has been unable to send communication to grant her rescue, but Emily begins to doubt his motives. Meanwhile, Ismael, a man of the sea, carries his own superstitions and begins to question if Emily is as innocent as she seems.

With BEACON, director Roxy Shih weaves the mythological creature of sirens into the narrative – a greatly underrepresented movie monster. Sirens lie in the wait near water, looking for sailors or lonely men they can seduce and destroy. These creepy half-women, half-beasts, deserve more screen time, and I honor Shih's decision to bring them into this story of a lonely lighthouse keeper.

A girl sits in front of a candle
Julia Goldani Telles as EMILY in BEACON
With a cast of two doing all the acting in an isolated setting, production design and acting are the top priorities. Creating the look doesn't have to be expensive, with cinematography and set pieces that make use of natural lighting to create the right atmosphere. From the moment the film started, my mind could not melt into this story. Everything looked too clean, too perfect. A film like BEACON needs a gritty look created by lighting, the correct camera lenses, and desaturation. It's the look used by many A24 and NEON pictures, but even THE VAST OF NIGHT, a film shot with a shoestring budget, accomplished this look. The overall look of this film kept me at an arm's length and aware at all times that I was watching a film.

Actors in twofer have a difficult job. They must be able to access a wide variety of emotions and do them all naturally. And in this story, which tries to find the humanity in both people, we have to understand them by using the dialogue and their body language to convey their development. And they are both on screen for most of the movie, making the job even harder. As the older of two actors, Bichir did slightly better than Telles at accessing more nuance in his acting, but together, they never had enough chemistry to believe the performances. Telles seems to have two modes, calm and cool or dialed up to ten. She spent most of the film being rude to her rescuer, which didn't seem likely.

This film had potential but needed a stronger vision overall to draw me into the madness.

Screening in its World Premiere during Tribeca Film Festival 2024 in the Midnight section. See film detail page for screening options.

Release info: Unknown at this time

Final score: 2 out of 5