FrightFest 2015: Farcical and derivative occult horror from David Keating
The occult has long been a source of fascination to big screen storytellers, inspiring films as diverse as Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Wicker Man (1973), and The Craft (1996). Done well, these stories can draw on ancient fears while speaking volumes about modern paranoias and relationships – particularly between women. Mishandled, however, they can be hackneyed and hokey and, even though it unashamedly shares its DNA with myriad superior influences, Cherry Tree is rooted firmly in the latter.
There is undoubtedly a kernel of a good idea in this story of troubled teen Faith (Naomi Battrick), who agrees to bear local mega-witch Sissy (Anna Walton) a child if she saves the life of her terminally ill father Sean (Sam Hazeldine), and it’s interesting to see a father-daughter relationship taking centre stage. Unfortunately, director David Keating and producer-turned-writer Brendan McCarthy (who also penned Keating’s somewhat more successful Wake Wood) fumble the material at every turn. The narrative is bloated and unsubtle – of course the witch is a slinky, semi-clothed lesbian, of course Faith’s pregnancy lasts for precisely six weeks, six days and six hours – and, at times, utterly nonsensical, requiring reams of exposition to move it forward.
While Battrick and Hazeldine are good, everyone else succumbs to the story’s campy melodrama and, as a result, the tone veers from the straight-faced to the farcical at breakneck speed. Visually, too, everything is haphazard and heavy-handed; motifs of insects, cherries and blossom are initially intriguing but soon become repetitive, and the chaotic slice-and-dice editing ensures any remaining coherency is ripped entirely to shreds.
There is some adept effects artistry at work, particularly impressive given the small budget, but Sissy’s climactic metamorphosis sees her resemble nothing so much as an angry spaghetti-strainer. She is, like the film, impossible to take seriously.
Screened on Thu 27 Aug as part of FrightFest 2015. General release TBC.