TITLE: Cherry Tree
YEAR RELEASED: 2015
DIRECTOR: David Keating
CAST: Naomi Battrick, Patrick Gibson, Sam Hazeldine
REVIEW BY ANDREW GARVEY
An Irish-Dutch co-production, funded by the Irish Film Board that’s set and filmed in Ireland but is weirdly devoid of more than one or two actual Irish accents, Cherry Tree takes a too-long-ignored subset of horror film villains – witches – and gives them a shiny new, spectacularly evil (if deeply flawed) update.
Opening with the brutal stalk-and-kill of a high school PE teacher/girls’ hockey coach, Cherry Tree starts well. From there it lurches from eye-rolling twaddle to slightly pervy schoolgirl action to genuinely nasty horror to some impressively creepy work from a horde (is that the collective term?) of centipedes.
With the previous hockey coach out of the way, Sissy Young takes over. That she was having a drink with the previous incumbent not long before her gory death is worth mentioning. Sissy is clearly, from her long black hair to her unusual, slightly lesbian-tinged interest in one of her students, a villain.
Sissy is a witch with some truly evil, if somewhat nonsensical, plans. And she can bewitch me anytime she likes.
Played with some seriously sexualised but still-understated menace by London-born Anna Walton, Sissy quickly targets sort-of outsider yet definitely virginal Faith (twentysomething actress Naomi Battrick doing a great impersonation of a teenager) to fulfill her plans for world domination.
Offering to cure Faith’s father’s terminal cancer, Sissy asks one thing in return – Faith should bear a child and hand over the baby to Sissy and her coven. Destroying her relationship with her closest friend, Faith seduces her mate’s boyfriend (who gets unconvincingly CGI-Demonic mid-coitus) and finds herself pregnant.
Her dad’s cancer cured, and beholden to whatever Sissy decides, Faith soon realises her pregnancy isn’t quite normal. And when her baby is born (supernaturally soon) the race is on to save the infant and… the world.
OK. I can cope with the ancient coven of witches whose rituals revolve around an ancient cherry tree and demonic plans taking place in a small town but there’s a scene where Faith, just hours after giving birth is running down country lanes and scaling walls like she’s Jason Bourne. Even in a story as gleefully preposterous as this one, throwing in completely unrealistic things like that feel jarring and ridiculous.
Such silliness aside, the film has a few other problems, too. It all gets a little bit tiresome, which is almost an achievement for a film that’s less than 90 minutes long. Also, there’s nothing particularly scary going on unless you’re afraid of creepy-crawlies, in which case all those centipedes might make you squirm a little. And yes, they’re all real.
Some of the special effects, the practical ones, not the ones relying on cheapo CGI, are strong and the coven of witches are perfectly happy to kill people in some deeply nasty ways.
Sadly, too much of the film feels a little clichéd and overall it just isn’t anywhere near as entertaining as interesting as it really should be.