Fantasia 2015 Review: CHERRY TREE Yields Rotten Pits

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
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Fantasia 2015 Review: CHERRY TREE Yields Rotten Pits
The mantra "Death is only the beginning," is repeated throughout Irish occult horror Cherry Tree by the coven of witches who have infiltrated a small-town high school. Their sexy long tressed leader wears a guise as the girl's field hockey coach as a cover for seeking potential virgin teenagers to act as broodmare for their hoped-for antichrist. 

The mantra got really ironic for me while watching the film, because it has problems. Big enough problems such that it should have been set on fire, struck down, and re-planted in the hopes that something better could have risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of an ill conceived third act. 

It has been a decade since Irish horror film Isolation spliced the Alien formula onto a twisted sort of animal husbandry freak-out. In the time that has followed, horror has blossomed into the country with Shrooms, From The Dark, Grabbers, Wake WoodThe Last Days On Mars, Let Us Prey, and now Cherry Tree but they have yet to land a classic along the lines of Scotland's The Descent, or the UK's 28 Days Later. I am happy that corner of the world continues to kick this particular can towards the goalpost, but Cherry Tree misses even wider than any of those titles above.

Cherry Tree has bountiful production value and no shortage of talented actors. It features some impressively icky macro-photography of centipedes entering orifices, and some NightBreed kind of skin-stretched craziness in its climax are quite impressive.  And yet these elements are left to flail about in a movie so bereft of common sense or even the barest minimum of plot continuity that it kind of baffles the mind that the creators behind this would deem it ready for festival-primetime. Who thought field hockey and witchcraft were a match made in heaven? (Or hell, for that matter.)

Teenage outsider Faith (Naomi Battrick), upon learning her father (Sean Hazeldine) has terminal leukaemia makes a Faustian bargain with witches to trade her virginity -- and give birth to a child for them -- in exchange for their occult healing techniques.  

The film offers a serious, deliberate build towards character driven horror along the lines of a Ginger Snaps teen outsider, and even offers none-to-subtle sexualized hints in the direction of Jess Franco's brand of Eurosleaze. Then, for reasons inexplicable to this viewer, what few threads it has been meticulously weaving are tugged hard into a simple straight line which the film then uses to awkwardly to self-garrote itself. 

No easy feat, that, and I could go at length into the details where the film simply doesn't make sense: A motorcycle chase in a shopping mall for no reason, a panic driven visit to a high school that is apparently still in full classroom sitting at 9pm, a boyfriend who appears and disappears at a whim, an end-of-film stinger-gag that is stupidly at odds with the tone of the rest of the film. It's exhausting to think about such things, but this is what happens when the characters, the actors, and the mood are savaged by the screenplay and editing.

Furthermore, when one seriously attempts this kind of movie, it (in my humble opinion) should be about something beyond simply the plot.  Ignoring for the moment that Cherry Tree cannot even manage continuity as it actively struggles to communicate point A to point C at times, there is a germ of an idea here. Maybe it was a case of something being lost in the editing room, because it feels like dozens of minutes of connective tissue have been excised to make the film more exciting in the indulge-the-fan-base department, at the expense of telling a good story. That is just a guess, well in fact I hope that is the case, because if this is what the aim was in the first place...oh boy!

Classic examples of occult cinema, from The Wicker Man to Rosemary's Baby to, hell, even Prince of Darkness use the supernatural manifestations of evil among us to provide insight into human nature, belief, or behaviour. David Keating and Brendan McCarthy have nothing here beyond the dumbest coven of witches since Dario Argento's abysmal Mother of Tears. Their previous effort Wake Wood (which shares a similar subject matter) is itself far from perfect, but far better than this. 

Their use of cherries, blossoms and insects as a visual metaphor for a loss of innocence towards the 'next stage of life' is both clumsy and frankly, kind of obvious; but more egregiously, it goes absolutely nowhere and carries no real significance beyond the silliest of bargain basement bloody thrills. Here is hoping that the local talent involved can find stories worthy of their talent. I remain hopeful that for Irish horror, Cherry Tree's death is only the beginning.

Cherry Tree

Director(s)
  • David Keating
Writer(s)
  • Brendan McCarthy
Cast
  • Naomi Battrick
  • Patrick Gibson
  • Sam Hazeldine
  • Leah McNamara
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IrelandOccultDavid KeatingBrendan McCarthyNaomi BattrickPatrick GibsonSam HazeldineLeah McNamaraHorror

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