REVIEWED: CHERRY TREE LANE
Mike wishes he hadn't splashed out on that 5-piece hatchet silverware set.
It goes without saying that any film with a running time of 75 minutes needs to hit the ground running. Why Cherry Tree Lane goes the opposite way, and how it still succeeds as a moderately tense thriller, is a testament to the mettle of Paul Andrew Williams’ skill as both a writer and director. Williams, who previously helmed London to Brighton, The Cottage and The Children, returns to his roots with something grittier and more serious-minded than his two last two works, delivering a modest success despite a few qualifications.
Though you might mistake the opening ten minutes as pointlessly inert scene-chewing, they establish a certain type of tension from the outset. As Mike (Tom Butcher) and his wife Christine (Rachael Blake) sit down for dinner, the small inflections in their tone and the awkward body language imply a long-gestating discontent, one made all the more interesting by their comfortably middle-class existence; a large TV, nice wine, and a well cared-for home. Mundane banter over a bland meal implies things aren’t well, and the implication that Christine may have had an affair only worsens things. Whether he’s paranoid or she is, in fact, a cheat, doesn’t matter; the truth is that they’re just as soulless as each other. Given Williams’ previous track record as a visceral satirist, I’m willing to believe that the husband’s absurdly trite dialogue is a scathing mockery of middle-class banality rather than, well, bad writing.
By the ten minute mark, a group of three unruly youths invade the family home, and any familial discontent is relegated to window dressing. This isn’t a simple snatch and grab, though; the group play Goldilocks, eating the family’s biscuits, using their aftershave, laying on their bed and even watching their DVDs – and rather amusingly turning their noses up at a copy of Away from Her – for they are actually waiting for Mike and Christine’s son, Sebastian, to make his way home, due to his part in snitching on a drug dealer.
Though the hoodlums’ apparent obsession with PS3s and Sky TV might suggest a critique of our media-saturated society, the real underbelly of Cherry Tree Lane lies in its potent class commentary, juxtaposing the almost arrogant comfort in which the family lives against the equally insular nature of the working class, council-flat existence of the hoodies, instead anaesthetised by drugs, sex, and TV. Barely able to read and blind to things we take for granted – like ATM machines – the film is seemingly as much a critique of middle-class arrogance as it is a hoodie horror, mocking the middle-minded attitude of the comfortable family, who no doubt condemn drug use while in fact having a son who is no less a user himself than the family’s captors. The paranoia and distrust earned by those with money – perhaps through fear of losing it – is perfectly defined in a moment in which one of the captors chuckles at Christine not knowing the pin numbers to Mike’s credit cards, despite being married and having a teenage son together…
Despite there not being much incident, the film sustains itself well with suspense underlined by some dark humour and plenty of socially incisive dialogue. A few red herrings are sewn into the narrative for good measure, with one character especially fitting the ambivalent archetype for a revenge film, only for the film to ignore this entirely. Similarly, the son being obscured from view for all but the last two minutes of the film’s runtime arouses suspicion, yet it is merely a technique to keep the viewer on their toes, sniffing around and giving their over-active imaginations a workout. When everything inevitably comes to a head, it is incredibly brief, lasting all of a minute or two, but it is also unsettlingly brutal in a way markedly reminiscent of Straw Dogs. The smash cut on which it all ends is the most disturbing moment of all, though, slapping an exclamation point on the savage overlap that has occurred; middle-class paranoia boiling over and clashing with working-class frustration.
Cherry Tree Lane is not especially original, nor is it as grisly as you would reasonably expect, but as a minimalist thriller it nevertheless keeps the tension high, accentuated by a well-developed class commentary and some solid performances (especially from the terrorised family).
Cherry Tree Lane goes on limited UK cinema release on September 3rd and is released on DVD on September 13th.
Thanks to Metrodome Distribution for providing a screener prior to release.