Writer, Producer, Director: James Crow
Cast: Sarah Rose Denton, Lucy Clarvis, Lawrence Weller
Running Time: 90 minutes
UK Release date: 18th May 2015
UK Certificate: 15
A classic tale of a cursed past brought bang up to date with unexpected scares to boot.
Opening with an atmospheric and concise prologue, we learn the story of a local woman who was accused of brutally murdering her son and subsequently hung as a witch. She cursed a nearby tree and all the children who played around it, causing further loss and horror. Flash forward 500 years and a troubled family move in to their new home, an old farmhouse near the woods and the cursed tree itself. Their arrival sets in motion a chain of events that reawakens the ghosts of the past and the family find themselves terrorised in the midst of this classic horror setting.
Dropping us straight in to the action, the plot moves along swiftly, exploring the tensions and issues faced by the family. With their father being in a coma and a new environment to adapt too, they have enough on their plate. So when the son (Jake) is bullied in to playing with a Ouija board and unleashes old spirits, he finds both himself and his family in grave danger. The script is exceptionally well structured and cleverly weaves the different story strands together. The family’s own personal troubles compliment the main plot, adding a depth to the film that otherwise might be lacking.
James Crow, writing, producing and directing his first feature, has not only constructed a strong story, but also displays a talent for pacing and style. Haunting music hits you from the very outset, adding to the production value and opening up what is essentially a small scale story. It’s a smart choice that adds style to a well-produced film. From the beginning the tension is slowly built, with small scale scares that genuinely make you jump. The action then moves along at a pace that would be hard to fault. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional horror cliché, such as taking a bath at an inappropriate moment, but rather than jar, these moments are executed cleverly enough for you to smile and enjoy.
Further in to the film, we are introduced to some important new characters that serve to add another layer and provide more information for both the audience and the existing characters. It is a credit to both Crow and the actors themselves that this manages to feel natural rather than too contrived. There are a few moments that feel a little expository, but again, I was happy to overlook them in order to get to the next scare.
The main cast deliver some great performances, particularly Lucy Clarvis (as daughter Emma) who seems a visually perfect actress for the horror genre. She has an ethereal, light quality but also exudes a strong presence. As she drives the story forward, she creates a believable, relatable character. Sarah Rose Denton and Lawrence Weller (as mother Amber and son Jake) complete the strong central trio. Although I was initially distracted by the feeling that Sarah Rose looked a little young to be playing Lucy’s mother, her performance won me over. Equally, Lawrence (in his first film role) does a sterling job of portraying the terrorised young boy.
The Curse of the Witching Tree ties together all its elements to create a well-rounded horror film and for a 15 certificate, there are more scares and disturbing images than you might think. It may be that there is a little too much going on at times, but when you are having this much fun, that seems like a churlish comment. Ultimately, Crow juggles the domestic and the horror plot expertly and delivers a glorious ending that definitely hits the mark.
7 out of 10
Curse of The Witching Tree is available to order from Amazon UK here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Curse-Witching-Tree-Sarah-Denton/dp/B00SX54D9S