FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL
Faith has an as-close-to-normal life as her circumstances allow. Her father in in remission from leukemia and there is not mother to speak of. She goes to a good school with her best friend, gets bullied, has a crush on the cute new boy, … Nothing to see here, just life as almost usual for most 15 to 16 year olds. That is until her father’s leukemia comes back and threatens to throw her world upside down. Luckily, her new field hockey coach, Sissy, can help save her father in exchange for Faith’s help in having a child. Faith agrees to carry a child for Sissy for her father’s healing to take place. Little does she know, Sissy has very dark plans for both.
The film starts as an almost regular teen drama: bullying, best friend issues, young love, a sick father. Then it takes a turn to the dark side and feels like a completely different movie. Cherry Tree feels as though two different scripts were merged into one movie and it is not a good match. The first half feels like drama while the second half feels like a somewhat cheesy (especially closer to the end) dark magic story. It’s not a bad story or a bad movie; it just feels disjointed like when a series changes show runner midway through a season. The script and story here could have used some tweaking so that the change in tone does not make it feel like two separate movies thrown together. Both of these parts are still put together well and entertaining, but with two separate parts that could have used a connector in the middle, something to make the shift in tone feel more organic.
In all of this, the acting is good, very good, in particular from the young lead Naomi Battrick as Faith who shows a great range with her interpretation of a teen who goes from worrying about bullies, then her father’s health, then about he and her child’s survival. Sam Hazeldine as her father has the second meatiest part here as he has to show the range of a sick man caring for a teenager. He does so by showing a vulnerability that makes the viewer care about his character’s wellbeing and then about Faith’s fight to keep him alive and healthy. The “bad guy” here is Sissy, played by Anna Walton, an actress familiar to genre fans due to her appearances in Hellboy II, Soulmate, and Mutant Chronicles. She makes for a fantastic baddie, sweet and understanding at first, then revealed to be cunning and evil. One can see why Faith and her father both fall for her in different ways. She is the one who brings in all the darkness into this movie while maintaining an air of somewhat innocence. She makes you believe Sissy really wants to help Faith before turning on her. She makes evil look easy.
The special effects, when they finally really kick in during the second half, are very well executed except for one CGI shot that was very sketchy but will not be revealed here as to not spoil a major surprise in the movie. The rest of the effects, especially during one of the crucial scenes, are handled beautifully. They are subtle when need be and in gross out in your face at other times. The design of one scene may have felt out of the place but it does not mean it is not well done. The practical effects are very good and visually interesting no matter their settings or if they are something that is needed or not.
Cherry Tree is an interesting take on old witches’ tales and how the movie handles this is very interesting, however the way it feels disjointed makes it hard to fully recommend it. It is a movie that will catch the attention and is well made, but it does have issue that can be hard to overlook.