Continuing a 2015 trend of spooky British releases comes writer/director James Crow’s ‘Curse of the Witching Tree’ a moving and often intense supernatural chiller set in rural England.
Delivering a rich mythology right from the get go, COTWT begins by introducing us to a local legend of the witching tree pertaining to an eternal curse on a tree placed by a woman wrongly accused of murder and witchcraft. Play near the tree, the curse gets you, or something to that extent. It’s no surprise that come present day the curse is awakened by a family, who as we see throughout the film have with more than enough on their plate already.
With the father in a coma a young mother is charged with raising her two children on a brand new farm. Tensions are frayed and whilst COTWT hits all the necessary haunted house clichés from Ouija boards to psychics a strong cast ensures that the plot line adds one ingredient into the mix which sees the film triumph over many of its contemporaries – this movie has a heart.
Similar to other recent(ish) releases such as ‘The Awakening’ and to some degree the ‘Woman in Black’ novel by Susan Hill, the desperation and degrading character situations only worsens the dread which supports some outstanding scares. The young lad is bullied, cruelly I might add, the teenage girl displays the usual complex range emotions you would expect, and the mother, downtrodden and desperate just cannot catch a break.
Initially the characters took some getting along with, it became apparent why once the film gripped me. These characters are very genuine, quite a distance from the usual horror stereotypes the interactions are written for drama, Crow wants you to get to know these characters intimately, to really feel their plight, which he does by skilfully weaving scenes of ‘real-life’ drama between developments of the supernatural threat of the curse. This of course can only happen should the cast be up to the job, and whilst the support characters which make an appearance throughout are patchy in their delivery, Lucy Clarvis steals the show in her portrayal of the mediating daughter. She truly was outstanding and I cannot wait to see what projects she turns up in in the future. The script is solid throughout, and aside from a few corny scenes the plot movies along with gusto, a mystery for the most part, climaxing in a chilling and brutal finale.
As I have already said, this movie gripped me once it got going. I did all the right things for sure, lights off, sound up, but still, this movie had me exactly where it wanted me! This in turn is credit to the atmosphere generated by the tone of the story, and ultimately its well-crafted scare-set-pieces.
I watch a lot of movies as you would imagine and I find that the supernatural ones fall into one of two camps – the really creepy ones are thick with overall atmosphere but low on thrills, and then the cheap, but ultimately entertaining jump scare ones. Having sat through a (large) number of duff ones I often wonder why the two are not more successfully combined, a best of both worlds scenario. This is where my most favourable critique of this movie comes from – ‘The Curse of the Witching Tree’ pulls off both. I cannot emphasise, or praise this enough. This movie gradually got under my skin and then repeatedly scared the shit out of me. On the surface there wasn’t anything extra-ordinary about its threat, just a decent combination of atmosphere generated by all the right combinations of camera work, lighting, location and well timed jolt scares.
There are a number of scary set pieces which sees all the characters under threat at one point or another and whilst the cynics will all cry ‘been done before’, I would argue that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. There are certain things which work in horror, and it seems that Crow employed pretty much all the ones that work on me! From spooky faces which pop out of the darkness, to lumbering camera panning though darkened rooms, there’s some claustrophobic sequences and some of those really horrible ‘just out of focus’ figure scares. Ultimately there is not really one terrifying part, ‘Curse of the Witching Tree’ is just one of those movies which never really lets you out of its grasp. There’s no time to relax at all, just a worsening spiral of intensity right up to its climax.
Overall Crow’s ‘Curse of the Witching Tree’ is finally an independent chiller which could easily be recommended to pretty much anyone wanting a good scare. Its budget is only betrayed by a few scenes, and all said and done, its rich story telling deserves to establish it as a more than credible commercial success. Scary, heartfelt and compelling – Curse of the Witching Tree is released in the UK on the 18th of May and I sincerely encourage you to check it out.