DVD Review: Cherry Tree Lane

Directed By Paul Andrew Williams
Starring Rachael Blake, Tom Butcher, Jumayn Hunter and Ashley Chin



A middle-class, unhappily-married suburban couple sit down to forced conversation over dinner. A ring of the doorbell signals their worst nightmare come a-knocking as a trio of knife-wielding teenagers barge in and take the family captive. They’re bent on revenge against the couple’s son, who evidently ratted out the lead hoodlum’s cousin, resulting in ten years of prison rape and bad conversation for one unhappy chappy. The son won’t be home for another hour though, so the youths pass the time rifling though the house for food and DVDs, before indulging their more violent and despicable impulses. Events occur in real time. Kiefer not included.

If that sounds vaguely familiar to anyone who saw Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, you’re not wrong; Cherry Tree Lane is Haneke’s film remade, but stripped of its ingenuity. While Haneke’s home invasion film was a tricksy, audience-baiting film that twisted genre expectations and sought to question our relationship with horror films, Williams has nothing at all to say. Though the film touches on ‘Broken Britain’ thematic issues surrounding the morally-desensitized decay of the country’s youth and an expansive generation gap, the insight is limited to trite, surface-level observations. Early scenes of darkly comic culture-clash humour as the invading youths are baffled by the subtitled films in the middle-class DVD collection suggest Williams might have some incisive class warfare up his sleeve, but the humour runs no deeper than a few early ‘What’s the deal with rich people?’ observational gags.

At the mid-point of the movie, lead captor Rian starts to eye up bound housewife Christine, the audience surely squirming with dread as he seedily compliments her body, the dialogue cribbed wholesale from a similar scene in Haneke’s film, with a few added instances of “…y’feel me, blood” and “…and ting” to add a ‘Sarf Lahndan’ flavour. I began to think Williams might take the opportunity to subvert racial politics and toy with the audience’s expectations, especially as Rian chides husband Mike, asking, “Did you think I’d do something to your lady? What do you take me for?”. Rian does the expected anyway.
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It serves to highlight the glaring issue running through the film as Williams jettisons depth and originality, adopting every conservative stereotype of urban youth, embracing scaremongering Daily Mail headlines in a hollow, predictable bit of exploitation. The racial stereotypes at play are astoundingly primitive; the criminal invaders are a duo of young black kids, one of whom is illiterate, the other a savage rapist (there’s a token dopey white lad in the gang, but he’s absent for 95% of the film, as are the other racially diverse additions to the group, who appear late enough to seem like a jarring afterthought in the writing process).

Discounting the alarming racial stereotyping and cheap, hollow scaremongering, Cherry Tree Lane’s biggest problem is that it’s simply tired and predictable. Every moment of tension is deflated by the fact that everything plays out as expected, without surprise, insight or ingenuity. Instead it’s merely an unpleasant, awkwardly paced film that rehashes ground amply covered by films like Haneke’s Funny Games, Straw Dogs, The Strangers, Ils, Harry Brown and the painfully overrated Eden Lake, without anything new or worthwhile to offer. Williams seems to be awkwardly caught between genres, delivering a social realism film with nothing to say and an exploitation film without gratification.

The film’s inherent failings are made all the more disappointing by the technical craft on display; director Paul Andrew Williams has an impressive command of the frame and is clearly a talented filmmaker, with graceful style at play in a couple of early slo-mo shots soundtracked by an amazing score from Unkle. The cast is also across-the-board fantastic. Rachael Blake and Tom Butcher have tough jobs and are called upon to act with their eyes for most of the movie, but do an amazing job. It’s Ashley Chin, though, who makes the strongest impression as the film’s Cubby Barnes equivalent. It’s just a shame that the hollow, threadbare story isn’t deserving of the talent assembled. Here’s hoping Williams’ next film is a better use of the potential that goes to waste here.
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On the DVD:

Metrodome have put together an impressive stack of extras for the film, starting with an audio commentary from writer/director Paul Andrew Williams. He’s an interesting guy to listen to, and the commentary is certainly more engaging than the film itself. Though he mostly falls into that familiar commentary trap of simply recounting what’s happening on screen, there’s some interesting discussion on the technical aspects of the film and his choice of shots and visual motifs. Sadly, those hoping for a little insight into the thematic issues or what he was trying to accomplish with the film will be left wanting.

A 25 minute feature entitled ‘Behind Closed Doors’ contains interviews with Williams and the cast as they explain what drew them to the project and how they prepared for their roles. There’s also a look at the rehearsal process and behind-the-scenes footage of the cramped conditions during filming as a hundred crew members cram into tiny rooms.

‘Rehearsing the Horror’, a second behind-the-scenes segment, offers an interesting glimpse at Williams and the young cast as he puts them through some pre-production method acting improv exercises to get them into character. The second half of the featurette focused on the cast and crew running through rehearsals for the film’s stunt work. Also included are two trailers and a short, but rather funny outtake.

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Cherry Tree Lane is available to buy in the UK on DVD from 13th September 2010.
Click here to order the DVD from Amazon.co.uk.