FrightFest Review: CHERRY TREE (2015){0}

From Wake Wood to Cherry Tree

The world needs more horror movies about witches. We’ve got more than enough zombie, slasher, and found footage flicks to cover the next ten years, so it’s always cool to see a new indie horror film that delves into full-bore, old-school witchcraft craziness with some degree of success. That’s not to say that David Keating’s Cherry Tree is the next Wicker Man, but taken as sort of a nasty little spin on films like The Craft, it manages to provide 85 expeditious minutes of enjoyably gruesome, appreciably energetic, and occasionally silly entertainment.

Faith (Naomi Battrick) is not a happy teenager. Not only is her dad dying of leukaemia, but she’s also frequently abused by the school bullies and generally overlooked by the opposite sex. And then, of course, something supernatural enters Faith’s life – and threatens to destroy it…

Cherry Tree starts off like a standard set-up for the old “unloved misfit strikes back” premise most famously exemplified in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976). Once Faith discovers that one of her teachers is the leader of a historically infamous witches’ coven, we logically assume that she’ll simply acquire some new powers with which to wreak holy vengeance on all her enemies – but nope. Brendan McCarthy’s screenplay is just a touch cleverer than that. Turns out that Sissy (Anna Walton) has a devious proposition for Faith: provide their coven with a newborn and they’ll use their dark powers to cure Faith’s dying dad.

It’s right about when Faith reluctantly agrees to give Sissy what she wants, that Cherry Tree turns from a dark, dramatic character study into a full-bore, fast-paced chase story. It’s plainly obvious that there was a lot more story / character set-up at one point, but someone decided to lose all the teen angst and most of the character development in favour of something a bit more mindless, but no less entertaining. Cherry Tree takes some bizarre turns and showcases a small array of egregious plot holes, but once Faith and Sissy square off in a battle for the soul of a newborn baby, it’s coasting along at such an energetic clip that it’s hard to not have a little fun with all the crazy witch madness.

If Cherry Tree isn’t quite as intellectually satisfying as Keating and McCarthy’s previous effort (that’d be 2010’s Wake Wood), it still manages to show off a decent collection of worthwhile assets: Naomi Battrick is quite good as the long-suffering yet tough Faith, and Ms. Walton is clearly having a good time as the endlessly duplicitous witch queen Sissy, but there’s also a nice focus on forward momentum once Faith makes her deal with the devil – and there’s some pretty high-end effects work on display once Cherry Tree gets rolling in Act III. Although certainly not the most unique or flawless witch tale to come down the pike, thanks to some nasty jolts, a creepy tone, and a few strong performances, Cherry Tree still qualifies as yet another decent genre export from our friends in Ireland.