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100,000 Acres of Pine

From its opening shot—a car interior bathed in red light, the protagonist small and blurry outside the windshield, hints of tree branches and utter darkness behind her—100,000 Acres of Pine sets a sinister mood that it never lets fade.

A park ranger walks carefully in the woods in a still from the short animation 100,000 Acres of Pine

The most memorable thing about 100,000 Acres of Pine is also one of the most difficult elements to describe: the tone. When it comes to horror films, being shocking is relatively easy: time your jump scares properly, add in a few loud noises, go over-the-top in gore and violence. Not to say there isn't an art to it, but being scary is much more straightforward than being creepy. 100,000 Acres of Pine establishes an unsettling tone from the very beginning, and it never lets it fade.

It's partly the opening shot—a car interior bathed in red light, the protagonist small and blurry outside the windshield, hints of tree branches and utter darkness behind her. Director Jennifer Alice Wright and her crew went to great lengths to make their 3D-animated student short look like stop motion, and Ranger Patel's movements are instantly uncanny, all fits and stops rather than the usual fluidity of CG. Nothing about it is flashy, but it sets the film's ominous tone perfectly.

For the bulk of the film, though, the production design isn't explicitly horrific. A lot of horror animation leans on its art style to set the mood, using inky smears or expressionistic angles to heighten the tension. Wright takes a more subtle approach, letting the vastness of the landscape and the eerie combination of tape-distorted narration and hushed, droning score pull the viewer in. Wandering through the trees, Ranger Patel is a stranger in a realm of giants, and the film emphasizes her isolation with long distance shots and high angles.

From there, the story only becomes more sinister. By the time it reaches its climax, the horror of the situation is unambiguous, but as striking as that moment is, the tone is what sticks with you long after the credits play. Like in Algernon Blackwood's The Willows, a classic of the weird woods genre that predates Pines by a solid century, the trees are at their creepiest when you aren't sure if there's really anything creepy about them. It's a horror that has you second-guessing how much is real and how much is just that primal fear of the unknown.

There's an even more bleak interpretation of the film, hinted at by the name of the park and the graffiti on a fallen sign. It puts another spin on the giant trees, the frozen lake, and the fog of the ending. But even without those details, it's a haunting film, made all the more effective by the fact that just what's so unsettling is so hard to pin down.

dir: Jennifer Alice Wright
syn: Ranger Megan Patel loses her brother, Daniel, under mysterious circumstances. Struggling to understand how he died, she finds herself alone, venturing into the vast pine forest. However, as she follows the trail of her brother into the woods, the trees begin to change and shift around her. Soon Megan arrives in places without any recollection of how she got there. Almost as if something is pulling her deeper into the woods.
Something dark and dangerous, that Megan might not be able to escape.