UK director Paul Andrew Williams first gained the attention of worldwide horror audiences with his 2008 feature The Cottage, a mix of crime comedy and slasher film. Many fans were charmed by Williams’ patchwork monster of a film, although others found both parts of the film somewhat lacking. Williams had a story credit on Tom Shankland’s excellent 2008 “killer kids” movie The Children, but his next film as director is 2010’s Cherry Tree Lane, which is just now seeing a US release. It should not come as much of a surprise that Cherry Tree Lane had a difficult time finding a US distributor to call home, given how grounded it is in British culture. But is it still worth a look?
Christine and Michael (Rachael Blake and Tom Butcher) are a married couple in their early 40s and parents of high-schooler Sebastian (Tom Kane). Michael comes home one evening and has an uncomfortable dinner with Christine. Their relationship problems seem to be nearing a boiling point: Michael keeps wanting to turn the TV on to avoid discussing anything of importance with Christine. Their dinner is interrupted by the sudden appearance of three young thugs looking for Sebastian, and before they know it they find themselves taped up and held at knifepoint.
The teens are led by Rian (Jumayn Hunter), acne-scarred and reptilian, who keeps Christine on the couch with him and makes increasingly invasive demands of her. Keeping Michael on the floor is Asad (Ashley Chin), much less tightly wound than Rian and obviously uncomfortable with the way Rian is handling the situation. Once Michael and Christine are subdued, Rian sends Teddy (Sonny Muslim) out into the rest of the flat to find Sebastian’s room, and then out to empty Michael’s bank accounts after they find his wallet. The trio are waiting for Sebastian to come home, and a ticking clock is constantly running– the film opens at “7:52 p.m.” and Sebastian is due home at 9:00, and the events of the film are played out in roughly real time.
Williams makes the interesting choice of shooting Cherry Tree Lane in 2.35 aspect ratio, a very wide screen image typically associated with Spaghetti Westerns and John Carpenter films. This is particularly unusual given that the entire running time of Cherry Tree Lane takes place in a single interior setting, and Williams rarely uses any close-ups or tight compositions to give the film any kind of claustrophobic feeling. Instead, the film uses wide shots with its characters often at a distance, giving the early scenes a tone of dispassionate observation that carries over into the home invasion. Williams seems to be interested in the concept of “the banality of evil,” giving his cruel teenage antagonists little more to do than talk on the phone and watch television.
Unfortunately, this does not exactly make for compelling viewing. There’s little tension until later in the film when the time is nearing 9:00, as the three teenagers make short work of Michael and Christine. Thirty seconds after they’re in the door, the kids have both adults completely tied up and helpless. The characterizations of the couple and the teenagers are also vague, giving the audience very little to empathize with on either side. Despite Asad trying to treat Michael with some kind of decency, the teenagers are basically faceless monsters. This makes Cherry Tree Lane a generic “home invasion” thriller without much to differentiate itself from any number of other similar films. Worse yet, the film ends at what feels like the point it should be moving into its climax, making it feel unfinished. Fans of recent UK horror will want to check it out, but compared to other genre efforts from the UK, Cherry Tree Lane comes up short.
Image Entertainment released Cherry Tree Lane on DVD on 29 January 2013.