Amber Thorson and her two children Jake and Emma move into an old farmhouse called St. Jonas. Whilst excited about their new home, their move is tinged with heartbreaking sadness as Amber’s husband lies in hospital in a coma after an unnamed accident. Without having enough on their plate, their son Jake is being bullied at school by a group of teenagers who convince the boy that his house was once owned by a woman who murdered her kids and then herself. Could there be truth to this story? Jake and Emma certainly believe so when they begin to see strange things around the farmhouse. After hanging around in the woods near a tree, rumoured to be the Redwood witching tree from which once hung a witch hundreds of years previously, Jake begins to realise just how true the local ghost stories are.
CURSE OF THE WITCHING TREE is the debut feature film from writer and director James Crow. A delightfully British ghostly horror story, the film focuses on the family and their relationship with one another, especially since the father of the family was hospitalised. It’s plain to see the strain it’s had on the family and the children begin to question whether moving into the farmhouse was a good idea even though their father had wanted to purchase it before his accident. With their mother powering forwards rather than dealing with her upset, the children become alienated from her, moreso when they begin to see weird things around the house. Could the curse that witch Isobel Redwood placed on the children all those centuries ago still be present today or is it just an urban myth used to scare the locals?
James Crow does well to create a feeling of tension and unease throughout the film. A slow build-up heightens the terror during the spooky scenes, letting the viewer’s imagination run wild with the sounds and visual glimpses. Even the scenes that aren’t scary eminate a feeling of creepiness, as though the family are being watched at every single moment.
The choice of cast is a superb one. Sarah Rose Denton is amazing as the mother Amber, who’s a strong soul and is trying her best to hold her family together in this hard time, although burying her emotion stunts her relationship with her children. Lucy Clarvis stars as Amber’s eldest child, Emma, a college student who keeps bringing her boyfriend Mike around even though her mum forbids her to. Younger sibling Jake is played by Lawrence Weller. Jake’s a sensitive soul which makes him a prime target for the school bullies who taunt him with horrifying tales and subject him to verbal and physical abuse. Both Lucy Clarvis and Lawrence Weller are perfectly cast as the siblings and the relationship they have on screen with Sarah Rose Denton makes this a believable family unit from start to finish. The film also features supporting performances from Jon Campling as Father Flanagan, Caroline Boulton as Eva the medium and Danielle Bux as Isobel Redwood.
There’s not many decent ghost stories around anymore but James Crow’s Curse of the Witching Tree certainly oozes appeal with it’s slow build-up that creeps under your skin and it’s unnerving scares that blend reality and nightmare. It might not terrify hardened horror fans but there’s lots to enjoy about this film.
James Crow has shown he’s more than capable of making a mark with his debut feature and I look forward to future horror surprises he might have up his sleeve.