It takes a lot of confidence and ambition to have a film like Canopy as your directorial feature debut. In an age where we are compelled to check our smartphones every five minutes, the last thing the film is interested in is immediate gratification. In fact, the contemplative nature of Aaron Wilson’s film is, at times, both its biggest strength and weakness. The audience is required to do so much of the heavy lifting that your overall enjoyment of the film will depend on how much work you are willing to do.
Canopy is a minimalist survival thriller set during the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942. The plot involves an Australian fighter pilot, Jim (Khan Chittenden), who is shot down and must fight to survive in a jungle frequently patrolled by Japanese forces. Trying to navigate through the hostel foreign terrain, Jim comes across a Chinese soldier, Seng (Tzu-yi Mo), who is in the same predicament. Although neither man can understand the other, they bond over the hardship that their current situation presents. As the two men struggle to survive, the harsh reality of their situation, and the war in general, begin to set in.
Filmed in just nine days, with post-production taking over seven months to nail down the sound alone, Canopy is an intriguing film from a technical standpoint. The film blends the natural sounds of the jungle with stark reminders of the war in a mesmerizing way. Wilson’s use of sound nicely conveys both the eeriness and disorientation that both men feel in the foreign landscape. The visual style that Wilson employs is both beautiful and meditative. The jungle is both rich in colour and overall density. Considering that Wilson, through sound and lighting, provides several reminders of the ever present war, the cinematography adds another layer of dread to the film. Examples of this includes a great shot of a platoon of Japanese soldiers slowly emerging from the jungle, as well as a haunting shot of soldiers coming down a misty road.
Despite its technical achievements, Canopy is a tough film to watch at times. This is because the film does not offer the chance to get to know the characters beyond a surface level. Since there is very little dialogue in the film, we must rely on the actors’ physical performances to move the story forward. While both actors do a solid job, the situations that Wilson puts them in limits their overall growth possibilities. As a result, Wilson tries to overcompensate for this by adding even more, though the film already has plenty, shots of trees and insects.
After twenty minutes of watching actors trounce around in mud, while looking scared, it becomes apparent that there simply is not enough material to sustain the film’s 84 minute running time. As a short, this film would have been a knockout. Aaron Wilson has a strong technical grasp and should have a long career directing ahead of him. It will be interesting to see what he tackles next. Unfortunately Canopy, despite its ambition, lacks the depth to keep the overall story intriguing.