With a talented, diverse cast and striking visuals, “Trim Season” is more wicked and stylish than one might expect from weed horror.
When you hear a film described as a stoner horror film, you tend to expect something wildly different from Ariel Vida’s Trim Season. What you’re probably not expecting is a moody, atmospheric folk horror about witchcraft, female power, and self-discovery.
But that’s exactly what you get.
From the opening frames, I was enthralled by the beautiful cinematography featuring idyllic fields of lush greenery bathed in the golden hues of the setting sun. There’s an almost reverential approach to the harvesting of marijuana that evokes a pagan communion with nature.
I was immediately invested in the visual spectacle that quickly turns savage, setting the stage for both chilling horror and a stylish mystery.
Cut to Emma (Bethlehem Million) at the start of a very bad day. Her junk heap of a car has just overheated on the side of the road, making her very late for her waitressing shift at a local café. When she finally arrives, her boss has had enough.
This tardiness, combined with a previous incident with a customer she is wrongly blamed for, is enough to get her fired on the spot. To make matters worse, her landlord has run out of patience with her delinquent rent, and she’s got until the end of the week to get out and find a way to repay her back rent.
Her best friend, Julia (the consistently excellent Alex Essoe, star of Starry Eyes, Doctor Sleep, and The Haunting of Bly Manor), comes over to provide comfort and support, insisting that the two go out for a couple of drinks to numb the pain.
They meet up with another friend who introduces the girls to her latest hookup, James (Marc Senter), who works for a massive weed farm in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle.
James tells the girls he’s looking for trimmers willing to do work for a couple of weeks during harvesting season with the promise of a fat paycheck.
Julia is game, but Emma is understandably cautious; the offer goes against all her better judgment. But she’s also desperate, so she eventually agrees to put aside her worries and take the job.
When Emma and Julia arrive at the designated location, three other girls are already there waiting to join them — Harriet (Ally Loannides, V/H/S/99), Lex (Juliette Kenn De Balinthazy, Evil), and Dusty (Bex Taylor-Klaus, Hell Fest, Scream: The TV Series).
James tells them to all leave their cars and hop in his van so he can drive them to the farm at a remote location. By this point, the warning bells going off in Emma’s head have escalated to blaring sirens, signaling extreme danger. Yet she lacks confidence and the ability to stand up for herself or risk rocking the boat.
So, she bites her tongue and goes along for the ride, filled with apprehension and dread.
During the ride, the girls muse about the significance of an all-female crew, with Harriet postulating it’s due to the perception that women are weaker and more dainty, less likely to rise up and overthrow an operation.
Upon arrival, the perilous nature of the work they’ve undertaken is highlighted when they’re greeted by armed guards at the gates of the property and immediately separated into two cabins, splitting up the group.
It gets worse when James confesses he’s not really in charge and is only there to deliver the girls safely to the real boss of the operation, a woman named Mona (Jane Badler), who owns the farm.
After making his delivery, James announces he’s taking off and will return in two weeks once the job is complete.
The girls are told that their host, Mona, wishes to welcome them with a lavish dinner in their honor.
Making a show-stopping entrance, she descends the staircase dressed to the nines in an elegant black evening dress, long black gloves, and a string of pearls — looking like a cross between a vampiric seductress and a silver screen starlet.
Mona, along with her two sons, Christopher (Cory Hart) and Malcolm (Ryan Donowho), generously showers her guests with wine and all the very best weed they can smoke. However, Mona abstains from partaking in the bud, insisting she only smokes a particular and rare strain cultivated especially for her.
Once back at the cabin, screams of a mountain lion heard in the distance serve as the backdrop for an eerie revelation from Harriet.
This place used to be a paradise, she bemoans. But now, the energy is tainted by the darkness that has befallen it, including murder and other evil.
This is fitting, given that the real Emerald Triangle, which produces much of California’s (and the nation’s) weed supply, is a hotbed for mysterious disappearances linked to its decades-old legacy of drug-related crime.
The following day, the girls begin to bond over their shared labor, and we are giving some depth to our core cast of characters, learning about rare medical conditions, unhappy childhoods, and buried trauma.
Harriet is the wild card, an anti-establishment troublemaker who isn’t afraid to take risks and stir the hornet’s nest.
While Mona is chastising Emma for being such a doormat — too soft for her own good, just like Mona was when she was younger — Harriet swipes some of the matriarch’s secret stash.
After smoking the forbidden bud, she has a violent and deadly reaction that leaves the girls distraught and anxious to return home.
As we dig deeper into the characters’ inner turmoil, supernatural and sinister elements begin to take center stage, making it clear the girls are in mortal danger.
It all culminates in a disturbing, visually impressive climax that really brings the horror after a slow and methodical buildup.
It’s satisfyingly creepy and cathartic, though more than a little murky when it comes to clear-cut explanations for the unfolding events. Rich in symbolism, much is left open to viewer interpretation, which will surely displease some audiences.
To discuss some of the more intriguing elements of the film would venture into serious spoiler territory.
But suffice it to say; there are some truly gruesome and haunting scenes, as well as some creative and brutal kills to keep horror fans satiated.
Where Vida really shines as a promising filmmaker is her incredible eye for detail and striking visual imagery.
That’s not surprising given her background as a production designer, working on sumptuous indie horror films like She Dies Tomorrow and Benson and Moorhead’s The Endless and Something in the Dirt.
Many scenes are shockingly grotesque, punctuated by impressive VFX and prosthetic work. Others are as breathtaking as they are eerie. Sets bathed in red light, misty tree-covered mountains, lush evergreens, and tranquil rivers all captivate and give the viewer plenty of eye candy in quieter scenes as you wait for the horror to unfurl.
The quality of the sound design rivals the superior aesthetic. Legendary composer Joseph Bishara (Insidious) lends his considerable talents to the score, masterfully evoking tension and terror.I loved the diversity of the cast in TRIM SEASON, and each actor delivered a strong and believable performance that added depth to the horror. Click To Tweet
Million, who recently showcased her indie horror chops in the excellent Sick, is especially outstanding. Relatable and easy to invest in, she’s a powerhouse of emotional complexity and fragility mixed with reticent inner strength.
The real standout, however, is the delightfully campy and deliciously villainous Jane Badler, best known for her performance as the evil reptilian Diana in the iconic 80s miniseries V.
Ridiculously stylish and glamorous to the point of weird excess, she’s a scenery-chewing, magnetic force of nature oozing charm and malevolence. Her performance is a bit batty but still grounded enough to keep her mysterious and menacing. She’s wildly charismatic and impossible to take your eyes off of.
Trim Season boasts an intriguing but somewhat enigmatic plot, loosely inspired by a group of women who went missing in Humboldt County, California, during harvesting season for marijuana. There’s a solid mix of mystery with simmering horror and supernatural bewitchment.
At times reminiscent of Oz Perkins’ dark fairytale Gretel & Hansel and Luca Guadagnino’s mesmerizing Suspiria (2018), Trim Season remains a unique outing.
I appreciated how it smartly subverted some popular horror tropes, including one notable highlight: Bex Taylor-Klaus’s Dusty in a distressing shower scene.
While it’s possible to bring your own interpretations to the table, I was entranced by perceived themes of transformation and empowerment — and the uneasy line between self-actualization and corruption.
It’s not perfect, the pacing is disorienting at times, and the ending is sure to be polarizing.
But there’s more than enough here to warrant a watch and herald Vida’s auspicious future in the genre.