Acorn (2023) Review
Writer/director David Axe’s (House Monster, Azrael) film Acorn opens with a man watching footage of what could almost be a Western version of his earlier film Shed as a female gunslinger surveys a cabin full of dead bodies and a little girl says it was the work of a monster. For the next ten or so minutes, we watch her stalk the creature.
Actually, Acorn is a film about filmmaking, specifically the making of the footage we just saw. A year prior, Chloe (Morgan Shaley Renew, Bad Girls, Bae Wolf) collapses on the set of her latest film, Spacebabe 3: Quest for the Spectral Ark. It turns out to be brain cancer, and she has about six months left to live. Since her producer Eon (Susan Willis, Encounter, Applewood) wants to get one more movie out of her before she dies, so Chloe decides to go out with something more substantial than Vampire Shark 3D. Die Standing Up, a fantasy Western that serves as a metaphor for her life, complete with a man eating tree.
Although it’s billed as a fantasy, Acorn is more of a dramedy as Chloe races the clock to bring her vision to life before hers ends. At one point, she describes the creature as killing slowly with a poisonous bite, a rather obvious reference to the cancer that’s been eating away at her. Axe includes many, perhaps too many, scenes of her hunched over the toilet to keep us aware of her condition.
The comedy in Acorn tends to flow from situations anyone who has worked on, or is familiar with, indie filmmaking will understand. At one point, Chloe calls to check on the progress of a frontier town set her producer has told her will be ready in time for her to use, and we see construction hasn’t even started, despite what the owner is promising. And the film’s special effects team are another source of amusement trying to recreate a massive tree critical to the story with a green screen and a guy waving branches around.
While the humour helps lighten the film’s tone, there isn’t really enough of it to stop Acorn from feeling very heavy and somewhat depressing at times. That’s especially true of the film’s first hour, when it frequently seems as if everything is stacked against Chloe. . And since she’s the only character who gets much screen time, there’s little reprieve from that feeling.
Around the hour mark, though, Acorn takes a very odd shift in both tone and content, delivering its first scene that could be called fantasy before circling back to its first scenes and letting us see the rest of the film. It’s a fascinatingly bizarre psychedelic Western that I almost would have rather seen than the film I actually got. That’s not to say I disliked Acorn, for a drama it is quite good, but Acid Westerns are much more to my taste.
But Acorn really wasn’t meant to tell a straightforward story. It’s more an attempt to capture the need to create, the sort of madness that compels you to do it, even when you know the odds are against you achieving your aims. The title card I mentioned earlier ends with, “If you’re thinking of making your own movie: don’t. If you ignore this advice, congratulations, you’re a filmmaker.” Which sums it up nicely.
This is another film that is not going to be for everyone, especially if you sat down expecting a straightforward genre film. Just what kind of film it is I’m not really sure, but if you’re willing to take a chance, Acorn may be your kind of strange too.
Acorn won the Jury Award at this year’s South Carolina Underground Film Festival and is slated for release in January by BayView Entertainment.