29th Mar2019

MANIFF 2019: ‘Far From The Apple Tree’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Sorcha Groundsell, Victoria Liddelle, Lynsey-Anne Moffat, Margaret Fraser, Adrienne-Marie Zitt, Scarlett Mack | Written by Ben Soper | Directed by Grant McPhee

far-from-apple-tree-poster

Directed by Grant McPhee (Night Kaleidoscope), low budget horror Far From The Apple Tree stars Sorcha Groundsell as Judith, a young artist who takes a job as the live-in assistant to acclaimed visual artist Roberta Roslyn (Victoria Liddelle), with the promise of her own show at some point in the future. Moving into Roberta’s spacious rural mansion, Judith begins cataloguing her idol’s work, which is closely linked to the occult. However, she becomes increasingly unsettled after encountering images of Roberta’s missing daughter, Maddy, who appears to be Judith’s exact double.

There are plenty of creepy ideas in Ben Soper’s screenplay, and the film toys with intriguing themes such as artistic obsession, usurpation and possession. However, the script only ends up scratching the surface of those ideas, rather than exploring them to any satisfying degree.

With Roberta established as a visual artist, McPhee’s central gimmick involves frequent switching between different video and film formats, including 35mm, 16mm, 8mm, home processing, Betamax, Pixelvision and Red. Unfortunately, while the technique adds visual texture, it never serves a significant narrative purpose, and it quickly moves from being over-indulgent to downright irritating, to the point where you feel like you’re being forced to experience someone’s video art exhibition against your will. It’s particularly frustrating because it wouldn’t have taken much to incorporate the visuals into the occult side of things – either way, if such a connection is intended, it’s one that the script fails to make clear.

On the plus side, McPhee makes a virtue of both his ultra-low budget and his single location, and he generates a suitably creepy atmosphere in the early stages. However, while the posters for Far From The Apple Tree promise a garishly colour-saturated picture akin to Mandy or Suspiria, the actual film can’t quite deliver on that visual experience.

Rising star Groundsell has a striking screen presence, which she puts to good use in her dual roles as Judith and Maddy. She also manages to suggest the dark side of ambition lurking beneath her seemingly innocent and naive surface, which gives the character an interesting edge. The film’s biggest problem is that Victoria Liddelle is badly miscast as Roberta. Her character should be alternately maternal and sinister and Liddelle fails to suggest either of those things, playing it all strangely one-note instead.

The supporting cast fare slightly better – particularly Lynsey-Anne Moffat as Judith’s best friend and Margaret Fraser as Judith’s neglected mother – but they’re under-served by the script. Indeed, you’re left with the strong impression that their parts were cut down in order to make the film more of a two-hander between Groundsell and Liddelle. At any rate, in both cases, it feels like the script opens up story possibilities that it then fails to explore.

Ultimately, Far From The Apple Tree is a case of style over substance, except the style is just as disappointing as the substance. There’s no shortage of ideas here, it’s just that they never coalesce in a satisfactory manner, leaving the film devoid of tension and chills, despite its suitably creepy premise.

** 2/5

Far From The Apple Tree screened at the Manchester International Film Festival on Saturday March 9th 2019.

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