*This review was originally published at Movie Mezzanine.
Aaron Wilson’s debut feature film, Canopy, begins with a splendid but ominous shot of the lush forests of Singapore. From a place beyond several shades of densely packed greenery, thick clouds of smoke slowly rise to the sky. A caption informs us of the date: February 9th, 1942, when the Japanese powers defeated the Allied forces to occupy the island. As the island slowly reveals itself, the stillness begins to convey a sense of ghostliness lurking beneath the beauty of nature. This opening sets the tone for the rest of the film, a work of minimal, expressionistic storytelling whose unconventional dramatic beats inject fresh blood in the tired genre.
The serenity of the atmosphere is broken when a soldier (Khan Chittenden) drops down on a tree with a parachute, bloodied and in a state of shock. We soon learn he is Australian, though further personal details are never openly explained. Trapped on the island, he’s on the run from the menace of Japanese soldiers whose conquests are visible throughout the land, and from the forest itself. Although he’s figuratively on the run, Canopy is devoid of conventional instruments of thrill, instead creating an atmosphere of suggestive threats with lights, shadows, and sounds. The hissing and rattling of insects and the dappled darkness of the night create what tension there is.
Canopy and its protagonist meander their way through the Singaporean forest during the first half-hour. Our eyes adjust to the environment as the soldier does to its dangers. Cinematographer Stefan Duscio does a brilliant job of highlighting the atmosphere’s splendor. At certain times, the imagery feels overwhelming, shot in a way that attracts attention to the grandiosity of the photography rather than creating tension.