Cherry Tree (2015)

First published by TwitchFilm

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Where Irish director David Keating’s previous feature Wake Wood (2011) showed a couple resorting to local supernatural powers to bring back their dead daughter, his latest, Cherry Tree, inverts these ideas, as teenaged Faith (Naomi Battrick) enters a Faustian pact to save her terminally ill father (Sam Hazeldine). The deal is that she must get impregnated on her 16th birthday and carry the baby to term for her new hockey coach Sissy (Anna Walton, wonderfully seductive and menacing), a local witch whose coven meets beneath the roots of a magic cherry tree.

On the one hand Cherry Tree concerns a virgin girl confronting the birth, sex and death that are part of adulthood via very literalised rites of passage, and embracing her own troubled maternity warts and all. On the other hand, it is an increasingly campy mash-up of motifs from Rosemary’s Baby, The Craft, The Witches of Eastwick (cherries!), Nightbreed and even Kill List (those claustrophobic tunnels at the end), with plenty of genre-voguish centipedes thrown in to serve as the witches’ familiars.

So there is a lot going on here, but at the same time there is a superabundance of exposition (in introductory text, character-given commentary and even a class presentation) that undermines any uncanniness by trying to make too much sense of everything. You may go into Cherry Tree hoping for the baroque irrationality of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), the stylised mother of all witchcraft movies, but what you get instead is something closer to the shrill silliness of Suspiria‘s belated second sequel The Mother of Tears (2007). Cherry Tree is a fun enough romp, but lacks the subtlety that its coming-of-age themes demand.

Anton Bitel