Friday, October 30, 2015

Scary Movies 9: Cherry Tree

There is only one thing trees are good for in horror movies: producing paper. Much like the “Hanging Tree” in Hollow, these titular fruit bearing limbs are decidedly bad news. Unfortunately, people still cling to the Luddite notion deforestation is a bad thing. Otherwise, they might clear out the not-so mythical satanic vegetation of David Keating’s Cherry Tree (trailer here), which screens as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies 9.

According to legend, the notorious cherry tree was the focal point of a powerful coven of witches’ dark rituals. Of course, the legend is more or less true, as teenaged Faith (at least she’s not named Chastity) is about to find out. Sissy Young, her new, conspicuously evil field hockey coach tells her so, straight out. Faith can save her Leukemia-stricken single father Sean, if she agrees to get pregnant on the coven’s behalf. They have a ritual to perform that requires a very special sacrifice.

Faith accepts out of desperation, but is quickly troubled by the supernatural circumstances of her lightning fast pregnancy. She is also concerned about the disappearance of Brian, the nice chap at school, whom she chose to hold up her end of the bargain with. She is also unnerved to find Young seducing her newly cured father and generally hanging around, acting creepy. As she figures out the full implications of her deal with Young, she comes to understand what makes Faustian bargains so dashed Faustian.

There is definitely a Rosemary’s Baby vibe to Cherry Tree. Keating and screenwriter Brendan McCarthy steadily crank up the paranoia, as Faith discovers how many respected townspeople are in on the occult conspiracy. Yet, they give it a distinctively Pagan flavor all its own. Young’s centipede familiars are also all kinds of creepy, in a slithery, cinematic kind of way.

Arguably, the character of Faith is problematically passive and Naomi Battrick’s portrayal is a bit bland. However, Anna Walton exhibits massive horror movie chops as the slinky, sinister Young. She chews the scenery like an old school Hammer pro and exudes an air of sexual menace. She definitely embraces the Pagan spirit of it all. Although more reserved, Sam Hazeldine is similarly terrific anchoring the film as Faith’s ailing father.

Thanks to the moody cinematography of Eleanor Bowman and some suitably creepy set design, Cherry Tree follows nicely in the tradition of lushly crafted Anglo-Irish supernatural horror films. The final parting shot is a bit of a groaner, but for the most part, it is tight, tense, and evocative of ancient evils that feel disconcertingly real. Highly recommended for horror fans, Cherry Tree screens this coming Wednesday (11/4) at the Walter Reade, as part of Scary Movies 9.