Growing up without a mother, chirpy youngster Ruby Strangelove (Seanna Pereira) stays upbeat by writing and singing her own songs. She and her dad, Ted (Ed Stoppard), live in a strange little town where almost every authority figure has it in for them. While Principal Maguire (Steven Hartley) is inexplicably hell-bent on keeping Ruby's band from competing in the school talent contest, the local Sheriff (Steve Nicolson) gives her dad a hard time and encourages his daughter, Alex (Carolina Poprocka), to bully Ruby. Ruby uncovers the real reason behind their hostility when she learns her long-lost mom, Sara (one-time Hollyoaks actress Twinnie Lee Moore) is imprisoned in another dimension where the evil Danforth (Stephen Rea) wants to make her his bride. Having inherited Sara's magical powers, Ruby discovers the only way she can save mom and defeat the forces of evil is by winning her high school battle of the bands.
Typical of the current trend in tween fantasies, the would-be epic, trans-dimensional battle between good and evil somehow centres around a musical moppet fulfilling her pop star dreams. Rock on, Ruby. As much as horror and action, low-budget family films thrive on the direct-to-video market albeit of variable quality. Ruby the Young Witch, or Ruby Strangelove Young Witch which was the title of its original US release, aims for a curious cross between Harry Potter and Hannah Montana but its mix of the magical and mundane sadly misfires. Its most intriguing twist involves two-thirds of the town, everyone from the sheriff and school principal to restaurant staff and a crossing guard, in an evil conspiracy against the child heroine. Yet the film squanders this promising paranoid idea.
While pacy and well directed by Israeli filmmaker Evgeny Ruman with inventive visual flourishes, Ruby the Young Witch is unable to transcend a wobbly narrative that badly fumbles its emotional beats. Perky, precocious lead Seanna Pereira plays a character so pushy and overbearing her orphan angst just does not engage. Actor turned screenwriter Luke Garrett layers the script with subtle as a sledgehammer messages about believing in one's self, aiming for the stars so your wishes will come true. Although well intentioned such ideals have been dealt with greater grace and skill in other films. Here the dialogue is just too on the nose. Strangest of all is the presence of Stephen Rea, the respected Irish actor from acclaimed films like The Crying Game (1992) and Citizen X (1995). His ill-defined arch-villain inhabits a bizarre parallel world known as the United Kingdom of America. Styled like a Russian fairytale film from the Sixties with crazy colours, Seussian colours and scary clowns patrolling the streets, this suggests a far stranger children's film got somehow eclipsed by something more asinine.
Ruman sidelines the magical aspects devoting more screen-time to Pereira's relentless bubblegum pop ballads or scenes where Ruby coerces her hapless musical chums. Judging from the way Ruby bosses her friends around she is a more convincing bully than the meek, brittle-voiced Alex, possibly the least threatening mean girl of all time. The trite moralizing does not tidy up the fact Ruby tends to use her powers to mentally manipulate friends or prank people like her dad's boss (Corey Johnson, whom Doctor Who fans might remember from the season one episode "Dalek"). Far from Harry Potter or The Worst Witch she is uncomfortably close to the reality-bending child tyrant of Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" episode from The Twilight Zone. Which admittedly opens up some intriguing possibilities given a last minute twist hints at a sequel.