Likened to Funny Games, Paul Andrew Williams’ taut thriller at least has a point. Cherry Tree Lane continues where Eden Lake and Harry Brown left off.
Directed by: Paul Andrew Williams
Written by: Paul Andrew Williams
Starring: Rachael Blake, Tom Butcher, Jumayn Hunter
Released: 2010 / Genre: Horror/Suspense/Thriller / Country: UK / IMDB
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Paul Andrew Williams, writer-director of London To Brighton and The Cottage, goes behind the camera for another one of his screenplays in this taut, stylised home invasion thriller. Cherry Tree Lane is similar in set-up to The Strangers and the brilliant French film Them, but has more in common with Eden Lake and Harry Brown in how its contemporary setting accentuates feelings of a broken society divided by class.
Christine (Rachael Blake) and Mike (Tom Butcher) settle down for an evening meal in their small but comfortable London townhouse. They bicker about a variety of things – Mike is still jealous of Christine’s relationship with another man (who she might have had an affair with) while they both discuss the increasingly worrying influence of their teenage son’s social circle. When one of their son’s friends knocks on the door asking to see him, Christine tells the boy that he is expected back at 9pm. A few minutes later there is another knock and three youths, one of them wielding a knife, burst into the house. Tying the couple up they tell them they are going to wait until their son arrives home and then kill him because of a petty wrongdoing. The couple appear helpless.
Williams’ direction is measured throughout. The pace is sedate, languid, conveying the almost trivial normality of this couple’s existence and then maintained throughout their ordeal so that the audience has to suffer in real time. Through liberal use of the close-up, Williams conveys a sense of claustrophobia, while he exploits off-screen sound to create an effect that is both aesthetically authentic and yet ethereal and unnerving. The opening few minutes have almost no sound apart from the distant noise coming from a pan of boiling water. Williams then slowly draws into this affluent couple’s world, his camera distant at first, the sound of their conversation muffled and quiet, then closer and louder as their ordeal begins.
One of the great things about off-screen sound and space within cinema is how it can be used to draw from the audience’s own imagination. Horror films have been using the technique since the genre’s conception. Williams is adept at utilising it. At first it adds to the authenticity of proceedings – the film feels raw and immediate – but later it becomes the horrifying result of some very nasty events. What is that old adage – what you don’t see is always more frightening than what you do see.
The most frightening thing about Cherry Tree Lane is its idea of the next generation. The gang that enter the house bring with them a younger, virginal schoolboy who is ignorant of their motives. He is still dressed in his school uniform almost as if Williams is magnifying the fact the child is still following the institutional path and hasn’t been morally corrupted yet. However, what has made this older generation go to such extremes over a petty wrongdoing? Like Eden Lake and Harry Brown, Williams flirts with the idea of the uncontrollable underclass, and the fearful division between the townhouses and tower blocks. But since the affluent couple’s son is also involved with these unscrupulous youths does that say class division is diluted or is middle class life being corroded by the unstoppable stench of urban decay. What set this downward spiral going is ambiguous, as is the influence of these shocking events on the young mind of an innocent child. But you can’t help but feel this is a dog eat dog world and what comes around will keep on coming around – generation to generation.
However, while Williams’ sense of style is commendable, and at times very effective, it does hide cracks in a very thin script that would be aided by more meat on its bones. When it veers into The Hills Have Eyes territory during its final reel you feel the film is abandoning the prescient, contemporary setting it so successfully achieved previously. And, although the pacing of the film is designed to be suffocating in its motionless, at seventy-five minutes the film still feels too long. A few well-placed edits would prevent the tension degenerating into watch-checking tediousness.
Yet, Cherry Tree Lane is more than just a workmanlike thriller. Like other recent British films that have looked at urban decay in the country, and in light of the recent riots in London and elsewhere, it feels uncomfortably current.
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews
This review is part of 31 Days of Horror: