Cherry Tree Lane (2010)
“No warning. No mercy. No escape.”
Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Cast: Rachael Blake, Tom Butcher, Jumayn Hunter
Synopsis: A couple is terrorised by a gang that is hunting their son.
Presumably the title Cherry Tree Lane is designed to reinforce the message that nasty things can happen in the most unlikely of places. Cherry Tree Lane sounds like somewhere Andy Hardy or Huck Finn might live but is, in fact, located in Muswell Hill, a gentrified region of London. Not the sort of place you’d expect to find three knife-wielding thugs on your doorstep. Director Paul Andrew Williams had the house in which the entire movie is set redecorated from a light, airy decor to a much darker one in an attempt to create a claustrophobic backdrop against which his bleak little drama could be played out. He needn’t have bothered, because atmosphere is one of the key ingredients this lacklustre thriller lacks.
Rachael Blake and Tom Butcher play Christine and Michael, a typical middle-class couple whose marriage is strained by the spectre of an affair Christine once had. They share a frosty evening meal in which Christine essentially baits Michael into mentioning her former lover then remonstrates with him for doing so. Not the nicest person you’re ever going to meet then, and that’s where Williams’ film first falls down. Christine and Michael just aren’t likeable enough to care about, so we have no emotional investment in their fates when three youths force their way into the couple’s home.
The movie, which is only 77 minutes long, plays out in real time as it becomes clear that the three intruders – two black youths, Rian (Jumayn Hunter) and Asad (Ashley Chin), and a token white sidekick (Sonny Muslim) – are waiting to get their revenge on the couple’s son, whose grassing to the police apparently led to Rian’s cousin being locked up. Tying up the terrified couple, the youths proceed to terrorise and abuse them while they all wait for their son to return from football practice.
It’s difficult to understand just what sort of atmosphere Williams was aiming for with Cherry Tree Lane. Home invasion is an inherently emotive subject, so audience sympathy should be pretty much built-in to the story, but as mentioned earlier, Christine (especially) and Michael are so dislikeable that the audience is immediately distanced from them, and the impression is given that they almost deserve their fate. And while the performances of the actors playing the youths are pretty good, their characters are pretty inconsistent. Perhaps that’s an attempt on Williams’ part to emphasise that they are a disorganised bunch of ’underprivileged’ kids rather than career villains, but they seem to be just a little too stupid. Did they not realise that the information they relayed in their conversations with one another would provide their hostages with enough information to finger them within a couple of hours? Or was the plan to make sure their hostages wouldn‘t be alive to inform on them? We never know, but then that’s in keeping with the film’s cheap, open-ended finale.
Ironically, Cherry Tree Lane is strongest during its moments of violence – all of which take place off-screen. The sounds of assault and rape provide a much more powerful impression of the horrors taking place than onscreen violence could ever do, and it’s kind of refreshing that a modern-day director is strong enough to dispense with violent images in a film that would appear on paper to be unworkable without them.