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October 2010

Cherry Tree Lane

cast: Rachel Blake, Jenni Jaques, Tom Kane, Tom Butcher, and Sonny Muslim

director: Paul Andrew Williams

77 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Gary McMahon

Cherry Tree Lane

A few years ago Paul Andrew Williams directed a daft little black-comedy-horror film called The Cottage, and while a lot of people didn't like that film I enjoyed it quite a bit - it had a strange tone, a dark ending, and Andy Serkis was in it. I like Andy Serkis. He's great.

So now we have Williams' latest offering, a micro-budget home-invasion horror called Cherry Tree Lane. The set-up is simple: a middle-class couple are terrorised in their own home by a gang of youths out for revenge after the couple's son helped put one of their cousins behind bars. That's it: very tight, concise, and low-budget-friendly.

I approached this one with caution. The last two British horror films I saw before this one - The Children, and Eden Lake - were both pretty good, and I felt that I was due a stinker. Thankfully, Cherry Tree Lane isn't that stinker, but it does come close...

The main problem I had with the film is the same one I have with a lot of films of this type. In short, the kids doing the terrorising simply aren't threatening enough. There isn't an adequate sense of menace and/ or madness around the gang who burst into the couple's home. I had a similar problem with Alpha Dog, and to a certain extent Eden Lake.

I felt that I could take the bastards on and win, even if they did have knives. Cherry Tree Lane suffers greatly from this - but maybe it's just a personal thing, because I grew up in a tough area. I don't know. What I do know is that if some of the lads I went to school with were confronted by this lot, they'd probably laugh before kicking their heads in. If they met Robert Carlyle's interpretation of Begby from Trainspotting, though, it would be a different story entirely...

On the plus side, Rachel Blake is excellent as the mother being held in her own home by children whose motives and lifestyle she simply doesn't understand, and what happens to her did genuinely make me angry - I wanted to reach out and strangle the little bastards. Williams' direction is also very strong - he understands what makes a scene tick, the rhythms and techniques of building and sustaining tension. The sense of claustrophobia is nicely built from the start, and the viewer is put on edge even during a scene where the couple have dinner.

Williams' camera never leaves the couple's home, apart from shots of the front door at the beginning and the end of the film. And if he fluffs the ending, and loses his nerve when he should have gone for our throats, I can almost forgive him. But Michael Haneke's Funny Games explores similar territory with much more ambition, and the French shocker Them takes the same themes and amps up the terror to almost unbearable levels. All this goes to show that Cherry Tree Lane isn't quite in the same league as these other films, and it's all the more disappointing because the carefully crafted opening scenes suggest that it might be.

I'd like to see what Williams does next, and what he might be capable of with a bigger budget and better actors than those playing the antagonists here. I'd like to think he'll go on to make something substantial.



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