3 out of 10


Release Date: 18th May 2015 (DVD Premiere)

Director: James Crow

Cast: Sarah Rose Denton, Lucy Clarvis, Lawrence Weller, Caroline Boulton, Shane Green, Lydia Breden Thorpe, Dean Maskell, Charlie Bond with Jon Campling and Danielle Bux

Writer: James Crow


Review by Matt Usher below




  1. CURSE OF THE WITCHING TREE – review by Matt ‘Joe Pesci II’ Usher

    Even the tree can’t act in this film. It’s clearly about 400 years too young for the role (the casting director favouring a younger model – typical) and is utterly unconvincing, lacks spookiness and looks just like a normal common-or-garden tree.

    It’s not the tree’s fault of course, it didn’t know that someone would come along and start filming non-spooky spookiness around it. But I mean, come on, how difficult is it to cast a tree? There’s loads of gnarled, strange, old trees, the government hasn’t privatised the forests yet. Surely to God the location manager could have found a half-decent tree which might look like it was home to a few pagan sacrifices?

    But the failure to provide a decent witching tree for a film about a witching tree is the least of the problems in this film which fails to tell a story about a woman who wasn’t a witch and who may or may not have murdered some children, and who was executed, then despite not being a witch cursed anyone who happens to be in the vague vicinity of the witching tree, then came back from the dead along with the ghost children she didn’t kill and starts causing all sorts of sadistic shenanigans in a remarkably unatmospheric Farmhouse of Doom. So that’s the background, more or less, as far as I could tell.

    As far as our main characters are concerned, a man falls into a coma so his wife does the obvious thing: she hits the bottle and buys a farm (a farm, which, as far as I can tell, has three pigs and nothing else). Alas it just happens to be the Farm of Doom where the woman who may have been a witch did her child-sacrificing (or not), something which seems to be common knowledge to everyone in the district except the woman who buys it.

    But she’s having a hard time, with a stroppy teenage daughter who looks older than her, and a son who’s being bullied at school. And then lots of spooky things happen: the son sleepwalking, blood on a mirror, dead rats turning up, the son getting locked into a cupboard. Actually it’s mostly just the son sleepwalking. Or is he? And lots of ghost children run around with sacks over their heads. (I watched this just a couple of nights after THE SLEEPING ROOM which has a man running about with a sack over his head. Is someone selling sacks at a discount to movie producers? How far can such a genre go?) Throw in a few school bullies, the obligatory likeable boyfriend and a blind seer and her sister, and you have all the ingredients for an enjoyable hotchpotch of hokum and hi-jinks. In theory.

    James Crow (who provided the script for the uniquely abysmal HE WHO DARES) makes his feature debut as writer-director-editor-producer-cameraman-casting director. I think it’s fair to say he’s overstretched himself. He has a decent eye for a good image, and he’s quite good at shots where you don’t at first spot what’s in the background. But doing that over and over again does not make a good film. The script is woeful – it takes the characters nowhere and there’s no sense of plot progression. The main family are tense (what with dad in a coma and mum buying a farm etc) but they lay out their stall in the first couple of scenes, then just

    regurgitate the same arguments endlessly thereafter. You can almost sense the actors’ desperation as they vainly try to vary the same scene for the fourth time. We never learn anything, nothing changes. Things just happen. Or not (for example there’s a scene where the daughter goes to get a glass of water – the way it’s shot you assume that something bad will happen to the water – it doesn’t). And that’s about it until the agreeably loopy but hopelessly underpowered finale.

    Few of the actors are inspired by either the script or the direction, and there are scenes where the dubbing is beyond belief (look out for the cameo with the vet). (Actually that’s another thing – the vet is called out after one of the characters sees some blood on some hay – we work out from the dialogue that a pig has been taken ill but the film doesn’t show us that – not that I want to see any poorly pigs particularly – but still, the moment isn’t an example of excitingly restrained menace so much as ‘oh we forgot to film that bit’.

    Sarah Rose Denton takes the nominal lead as the mum with a farm, a gun and a drink problem, and is gifted the glorious line ‘Get away from my son you mother****ing witch.’ She plays the role for all it’s worth, which is very little unfortunately. The character seems to be in TV soap-land and moans a lot, rather than being stranded in some supernatural chicanery. Lisa Clarvis plays the stroppy daughter. In many respects she’s pretty good, but she has a very odd attitude to danger. When bad things happen she (a) screams, but then (b) looks a bit irritated, as if it was the cat-jumping-out-of-the-cupboard moment. Except it wasn’t. Where was the director? Most of the rest of the cast are children so I’ll just say they were enthusiastic. Oh, and Gary Lineker’s wife turns up for a fight scene. No idea why. Even the bloke in the coma is bad, though not as bad as his strange-blinking nurse.

    Crow seems to have set out to make a film that was strong on atmosphere and suspense, a film which depended on tension and unpredictability, a film which needed a strong sense of place, a strong sense of menace, and a powerful sense of evil (after all it’s a film about vengeance being visited on innocent children). All of these things should be achievable despite a tight budget. The film doesn’t need (nor does it have) overblown special effects, there is very little gore splurging about. So how does it go so wrong? I think the director part of James Crow was perhaps too impatiently enthusiastic to get going, and badgered James Crow the producer to get the script from James Crow the writer long before it was ready. The script and plot are respectively doltish and dumb, leaving director-Crow with nothing to work with. Beyond the set-piece shock moments (all of them quite small but sometimes effective) the film just meanders like a walk in a park when it should be relentlessly tightening its grip on the viewer’s throat.

    Nice title sequence though.

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