Stars: Anna Walton, Naomi Battrick, Sam Hazeldine, Patrick Gibson, Minnie Phipps | Written by Brendan McCarthy | Directed by David Keating
Faith’s world is turned upside down when she finds out her father is dying. When the mysteriously alluring Sissy Young becomes her field hockey coach, Faith finds a compassionate spirit and much-needed mother figure. Little does she know that Sissy is the head of a centuries-old witches’ coven using the fruit of an ancient cherry tree in a secret ritual that restores life. And soon Sissy has enticed Faith into making a fateful bargain that is about to change everything…
Cherry Tree feels very much like a jumble of ideas, as if someone sat down and thought about what they wanted to see in a horror film or what would make “interesting” visuals and then tried to string them together with the flimsiest of plots. And the visuals are definitely the best thing about this movie. I never thought of centipede being a malicious, evil insect before… Yet here they are, burrowing into peoples flesh and possessing them. But the fact that these stunning use of these insects were poles apart from the meandering, oft-told, witches tale left me feeling cold. All I could think of every time they were on screen, was that someone on this production been influenced by Tom Six and his trilogy of “centipede” movies. I pictured some exec in a brainstorming session (which I’m sure is how Cherry Tree‘s disconnected set of visuals came into being) saying “Have you heard of those centipede movies? Centipede’s are scary right? Let’s put them in the movie!”
It’s also obvious that director David Keating and writer Brendan McCarthy have taken their experience from working with Hammer on Wake Wood and tried to tap into that same gothic horror vibe. Very much in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby, Village of the Damned and The Wicker Man, this is one of those stories that sees the protagonists being the only people in the ENTIRE village that are not aware of the coven of witches, or embroiled in their exploits. That idea works if the protagonists are newcomers to town but NOT if they’ve lived there all their lives. Surely in that case, at some point in their lives, they would have had to question all the missing people, the odd behaviour, anything?!
What really hurts Cherry Tree though is the overwrought soundtrack that ruins any good will built up by the films visuals and story. There’s no subtlety, no nuance. It really does sound like the composer had rented “Horror Movie Scores for Dummies” and followed it to a tee. The score hits home each and every cue with a massive sledgehammer like thud, often taking you out of the film instead of bringing you in. Frankly the score ruins the movie.
Credit where’s credit’s due though. The cast do a remarkable job with what is a risible script, trying their best with not only copious amounts of exposition but often times some incredibly clunky dialogue. Anna Walton, so good in Axelle Carlyn’s Soulmate, is both creepy and sexy and the leader of the witches coven – well right up until that final sequence where she sprouts roots from her head and then any subtlety she brought to the role is thrown out the window! Even Naomi Battrick, as Faith, does wonders with her role. Her character arc, from innocent teen to vengeful mother, is a joy to watch. Yet her role too is hampered in the end (literally) by the films terrible dialogue. So terrible in fact that the last reveal, the big reveal, as spoken by Battrick, just comes across as laughable – although in Battrick’s defence what we see after her last line in the movie is why its so laughable.
In the end Cherry Tree feels like a movie-by-committee film. Hampered by clunky dialogue, boosted by good performances and let down by one of the most ridiculous ending I’ve seen outside of the thousands of Italian Hammer rip-offs, this movie is worth watching only for its two stand-out effects sequences… but I’d still wait to see it for free on TV.
Cherry Tree is out on DVD on May 2nd from StudioCanal.