Ginger Nuts of Horror
CHERRY TREE (2015)
Life is full of disappointments. From opening up a bar of your favourite chocolate, only to discover that it has shrunk overnight from a regular size to what you would describe as a fun-sized version, to finally getting to watch a film that you have been excited about watching, only to find that the film is a complete mess.
Since watching the trailer to David Keating's Cherry Tree last year, I was intrigued by the concept - folk horror witchcraft in a Modern Irish setting, that mixed magic, death, and sex with creepy crawlies into what looked like a very interesting film. Sadly this was not to be the case, instead, Chery Tree ended up being a confused, and cliched coven of bad ideas.
Opening with a captioned history lesson of witchcraft in Cherry Tree, interspersed with images of giant centipedes, while a pompous soundtrack plays over the captions, should have been the trigger warning that could have saved me from watching the rest of film. I get that they want to ramp up the fear and dread, but overdoing the ominous music and using species of insects that are not native to this country is not the way to go. Obviously, UK centipedes and Cryptopidae, which average out at 3cm are no way as scary as the giant ones that appear throughout this film as the witch's familiars, and yes I get that this is a horror film, and you shouldn't really get caught up in the minutiae of details but it exemplifies the lazy use of cliches in the film.
The film then cuts to a bar scene where ( and this may seem like a spoiler so skip if you want to remain mildly surprised) the head witch is trying to seduce as female at the bar. All sense of sexual tension or drama is shattered thanks to a camera shot that makes the seductress look like she is suffering from a really bad case of stomach cramps. Something which isn't lost on the prospective seductee, who promptly announces that she "can't do this" and runs out of the bar. Where she is abducted by the other members of the coven and carted off to the Cherry Tree where she is sacrificed to the powers that be, while the coven chant "death is only the beginning" to which this reviewer thought "If this is only the beginning then please bring on a quick and painless death"
We are then introduced to the heroine, Faith, of the film as she tries out for the school's hockey team, which just happens to be run by our very own Worst Witch. Things don't go well for our heroine and she doesn't make the team. The film then cuts to a scene which I have serious problems with, a scene where she is in the girls shower room along with the rest of the team, a scene where we the viewer get a proper eyeful. If the intention of this scene was to make the viewer uncomfortable, then it worked, but for all the wrong reasons. These are supposed to be 15-year-old school girls, I thought this was called Cherry Tree and not Yew Tree. I watch horror films for the tension and the scares, I don't watch horror films to make me feel like a dirty old man sitting on a park bench eyeing pretty girls with bad intentions ( I've always wanted to quote Jethro Tull in a review, at least this film has given me a chance to this).
Faith is then approached by The Worst Witch, who has a proposition for her. She will cure her Dad's cancer in exchange for Faith getting pregnant and giving the resultant child to The Worst Witch. Talk about creepy teachers, while this notion itself isn't particularly terrible, it is the fact that it allows the filmmakers to have yet another difficult to watch scene where Faith seduces the school hunk, in another creepy voyeuristic scene that crosses the line on acceptability.
Faith takes everything at face value, right there and then, she signs up for this deal without a second thought. She must be a dream come true for the 100's of Nigerian Princes looking to offload their millions.
While they are going about their business, the hunk becomes host to one of the giant centipedes and is for some reason, that is known only to the writer and director of the film transformed into a burnt skinned monster.
Faith now suitably impregnated, is then forced to witness her father being sacrificed and reborn in a corny ritual, that could have been a very powerful scene, but thanks to hammy acting and yet even more of the totally pompous soundtrack, ends up being like a bad night at the local am-dram society.
The rest of the film involves Faith walking around in a dream like confused state while we find out that everyone and their granny is part of the cult. However unlike Sergeant Howie's chilling realization of the grand conspiracy in Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man, a film which shares many of Cherry Tree's concepts, this journey of discovery comes across as a hackneyed, hastily put together mess, devoid of all sense of dread and fear.
It is only in the final act where Faith decides to become more proactive and fight back against The Worst Witch and her coven of burlap hooded even worse witches, that the film breaks out of its stupor and goes for a more action based approach.
You would have to look very hard to find any redeeming factors in this film. Bad acting, seriously morally dubious scenes involving underage nudity and sex, which feel as though the only purpose of their inclusion was so the director could get a chance to perv over his leading actors. Camera work that, doesn't so much as throw out the rule book, as shows a complete lack of knowledge of how to frame a shot. Leaden direction that strips the film of any sense of tension. A film score that makes you wish you had the option to watch the film with dialogue only. And the misconception that having a lead villain that is only capable of either looking like she is suffering from serious stomach pains or that she is wondering where she left her house keys makes for a film that makes you wonder if this film was made for a bet. This is hammered home by what must rank as one of the worst final shots of any film ever made.
I have seen scarier episodes of Grange Hill.