Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Screenplay: Paul Andrew Williams
Producer: Ken Marshall
Starring: Rachael Blake, Tom Butcher, Jumayn Hunter, Sonny Muslim, Ashley Chin
BBFC Certification: 18
Duration: 78 min
Cherry Tree Lane is British writer/director Paul Andrew Williams' third feature after scoring relative indie-success with London To Brighton and The Cottage. Interestingly, rather than expand the scope and scale of his films as his career begins to blossom, here he strips it all back with a raw, simple, yet brutal film that was written in one week and shot in two. The whole film is set in one house which was a real location, not a set, and the action plays out in real time.
Cherry Tree Lane is a home invasion movie that comes across like a British spin on Funny Games without the post-modernism. A middle-class, middle-aged couple sit for dinner, we see hints of an icy relationship between the two of them, then suddenly a group of three youths burst into their house and shatter their quiet lives. They take the couple hostage as they wait for their teenage son to arrive so they can exact revenge for his shopping-in of the cousin of one of the youths. The tension mounts as the couple await their and their son's fates. The assailants meanwhile are struggling to pass the time.
It's an intense experience that reminded me of Dead Man's Shoes in that it disregards a fully-fledged narrative in place of pure tension and raw sensation. What this film does very well is handle it's violent acts. Pretty much all of this happens off screen. We just hear muffled suggestions of what is happening, witness the reaction of those in another room and later are subjected to the aftermath. This becomes a powerful technique as your mind conjures up acts even more brutal than those that could be shown on screen. Also, occasionally you're allowed think that maybe they're not doing what you think they're doing, which makes the shots of the victims afterwards even more devastating.
The film has a strong sense of authenticity too in its performances, dialogue and situations, adding a sickening sense of reality to it all. The 'villains' aren't even displayed as such, despite the horrific acts they commit. They just come across as ignorant and desensitised to the brutality. For a lot of the film they just bicker with each other, snatching biscuits from the house and flicking TV channels while they wait for the son to arrive. The banality of their actions as they mope around the house still adds to the suspense though as you wait for them to do what they came for. Small actions like throwing titles out of the couple's DVD collection and aimlessly fingering through the bathroom cabinet and fridge play on the audience's fear of an invasion of privacy and personal space.
It's a film that seems to be pointing its finger at modern society and all of its flaws. In the film's 'making of' featurette however, Williams claims that he's not trying to make any sweeping social statements, although he did want to show a lack of understanding between the generations and classes as well as look at how desensitised much of today's youth are to violence. A main aim for the film also seems to be to distance itself as far from Hollywood as possible in it's realistic presentation and British vernacular. There are not even any real heroes, the couple aren't particularly likeable at the start of the film and there's no clear-cut happy ending for them either. Williams seems to want to throw us into the situation and force us to live every second of it whether we like it or not.
It's a powerful film that seems to pulls no punches yet shows very little violence head on and manages to be disturbing even though its aggressors are almost comically idiotic and spend much of the film sitting around chatting about nothing. There are some odd turns towards the end which spoil things a little and I imagine it won't be a film for everyone, but if it manages to creep under your skin as it did me, you won't forget it.
Cherry Tree Lane is currently screening at limited cinemas around the UK and is released on DVD on the 13th September by Metrodome. The DVD has a solid set of features, including a rough, yet honest and insightful 'making of' as well as a thorough and thoughtful commentary and some raw rehearsal footage which although a bit flat and dull, is very interesting in terms of seeing how the director works with his actors. A must buy.
Review by David Brook