Do you remember having a favorite tree growing up? Maybe you shared your first kiss underneath its leafy branches, rested against its gnarled bark while reading your favorite paperbacks, or even used it as the safe spot in games of base tag with your friends. Well, the titular timber in Curse of the Witching Tree isn’t that type of tree, and in his feature film directing debut, James Crow effectively shows its horrifying historical roots.
Siblings Emma and Jake Thorson weren’t thrilled about moving to St. Jonas farm in the first place, but they find more to fear than feeding the pigs when the spirits of nine slain children begin to pop up on the grounds. Unfortunately for the teenager and her younger brother, their mom isn’t buying into their supernatural theories—she’s understandably preoccupied with the condition of her husband, who’s been in a coma for quite some time and is barely clinging to this world. It’s a tough time to be a Thorson.
But the dead don’t care if the living are in good spirits or not. When they have a message to send, they’ll send it, and that’s exactly what the young ghosts of St. Jonas farm do, scaring poor Jake, stressed-out Emma, her helpful boyfriend Mike, and viewers in equal measure.
Their presence seemingly enhanced after a barnyard séance, these creepy kids with a connection to the cursed land often wear burlap sacks over their heads (like distant cousins of little Sam from Trick ’r Treat) and turn the Thorsons’ new home into a relentless haunted house where doors close on their own and things go bump in the night (even the heaviest sleepers would find it impossible to get a full night’s rest in this environment).
Enough jump scares exist in Curse of the Witching Tree to fill two films, and that’s not a bad thing, as more often than not Crow sets them up with eerie (sometimes nearly subliminal) effectiveness. Adding to the horror are the solid performances. The members of the Thorson family form a realistic, flawed family unit. These folks are seemingly plucked straight out of real life, making their predicaments all the more precarious.
Overall, Crow makes a fine feature that should make even the most hardened horror fan jump a little in their skin on more than one occasion. Curse of the Witching Tree is definitely worth a watch, especially around the witching hour, when its truly nightmarish atmosphere can be fully appreciated.
Written, produced, and directed by James Crow, Curse of the Witching Treecomes out on DVD in the US on May 19th and in the UK on May 18th.
Synopsis: “An innocent woman, accused of murdering her son and hanged as a witch, curses a tree and the children who play around it. The effects of this act of revenge echo through the years and centuries, and restless spirits haunt the house where the bodies of the cursed children have been buried. A family move into their new home, and begin to uncover the terrible truth behind The Witching Tree and the murdered children upon which they unknowingly sleep…”
Cast: “Sarah Rose Denton, Lucy Clarvis, Lawrence Weller, Jon Campling, Danielle Bux, Caroline Boulton, Lydia Breden-Thorpe, Shane Green, Liam Ponder, Charlie Bond, Lorraine Gray, Dean Maskell, Viv Bonney, James Sibley, Alexandra Lawes.”