David Keating’s silly and unsuccessful folklore horror film, Cherry Tree (2015), suffers from a list of ailments no old crone in a woodland cottage, with her library of esoteric books, magic spells and potions, could ever save or transform into a superior version. She’d look the film straight in the eye and wish it the best of luck. The issues and problems cripple what could have been a gnarly genre piece. Because everybody loves sexy witches being evil, right? Among many, one of the most peculiar creative decisions is to pretend it wasn’t filmed in Ireland, with the cast suppressing their Irish lilts in favour of, sometimes, strained attempts at RP or Thames Valley intonations.
It’s just weird. Faith (Naomi Battrick) is a sixteen-year-old high school kid living in a town called Orchard, where an ancient coven of Satan’s babes plot to please their master and imbue themselves with major mojo by finding a vessel to carry his child. Before you can say “Rosemary’s Baby” Faith is up to her neck in witchy shenanigans and forced into a classic Mephistophelian bargain by a head sorceress (Anna Walton), who is also the girl’s high-school gym teacher. To labour the witch/magic spells analogy even further – and why not! – Cherry Tree has all the right ingredients, but like a teenage Wicca in her bedroom reading through Black and White Magic for Dummies, the mix is fudged and the end result is just daft and unentertaining. The director of Wake Wood has attempted to rework the folk horror angle that made his debut so eerie and affecting on a more ambitious scale, but he’s come a cropper.
The pace is sluggish even when narrative events hurtle along like a freight-train with the brakes off. This causes the editing of scenes to feel disjointed and rushed. Take, for example, Sissy’s sudden agenda to wreck Faith’s life for failing to be a good vessel for the Antichrist. None of it connects or makes the required dramatic beats; too much of the film feels like that, there is no internal rhythm. Walton, who has a welcome Barbara Steele-like presence, hams it up a treat, and the third act make-up and effects finally deliver the good stuff entirely lacking in the previous eighty minutes or so. But it’s still not enough to turn Cherry Tree into a ropey horror drama dotted with good bits. The film is nothing but a clumsy constructed yarn with a final scene/shot so cheap and misguided; it sums up Keating’s clunker with aplomb.