The home invasion sub-genre of movies has a long and sometimes illustrious history with films such as Cul-de-Sac, Straw Dogs, Panic Room and Funny Games being some of the more high profile examples. This easily adaptable narrative framework has cropped up in horror movies, thrillers, action movies and arthouse productions and in it’s latest incarnation it appears as the basis for a British crime movie. Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, whose previous films London to Brighton and The Cottage were low budget independent productions, here he returns with a bleak and unsettling view of life in modern Britain.
Cherry Tree Lane repositions the home invasion movie in very British territory with it’s tale of an affluent but seemingly unhappy middle class couple, Mike (Tom Butcher) and Christine (Rachael Blake), being held hostage and terrorised by three teenage ‘hoodies’ who are on the hunt for the couple’s son Sebastian (Tom Kane). Having ratted out a drug dealer to the police Sebastian is in line for some savage retribution from the gang, and as they wait for him to return home his unwitting parents, oblivious to just how far into the drug scene their son is, get the initial brunt of their anger.Williams has combined the traits of the home invasion movie with the increasing use in British movies of teenage ‘hoodies’ and gang members as the source of danger, violence and criminal activity. Williams’ screenplay certainly plays into the fear generated by the current media pre-occupation for depicting Britain as a broken society where lawless gangs roam the streets inflicting misery upon the general public. With other recent movies exploring the same conceit including Eden Lake, Harry Brown and the newly released F there is a danger that this topic is already becoming lazily used and a cheap angle on which to pin a plot, and Williams’ foray into the topic has mixed results.
Cherry Tree Lane is undoubtedly tense, stark and at times brutal, the director succeeding as he said himself ‘to do something more real than Hollywood might do’. Williams’ direction owes a debt to Haneke’s Funny Games with it’s creeping camerawork, unusual framing of characters and scenes, lack of soundtrack save for a downbeat piano motif and acts of extreme violence taking place offscreen. It’s an accomplished and assured piece of film-making that all the same doesn’t quite succeed in being genuinely memorable. The main problem being that it doesn’t add anything to either the home invasion movie or to the issue of the ‘hoodie’ problem in British society (and British movies) – what we see and hear we have seen and heard before. The three thugs, killing time as they wait for Sebastian by subjecting Mike and Susan to all manner of physical and mental humiliation, struggle to be little more than well worn ‘hoodie’ stereotypes: spliff smoking, foul mouthed, aggressive and dispassionate. Only Asad (Ashley Chin), the quieter, more thoughtful of the trio approaches being a three dimensional character, displaying as he does the odd moment of empathy for the trapped couple and questioning Rian (Jumayn Hunter) over his increasingly violent behaviour.
The film’s climax though is a major plus point, the explosion of violence that you expect to come does arrive, but in no way draws the action to a resolution. What could have played out as a regulation revenge movie where the victims turn into heroes and save the day becomes much more complicated and uncomfortable in Williams’ hands. This is not mainstream Hollywood violence, instead we see the shattering effects violence brings about to all parties concerned. Even with a script that doesn’t quite offer enough in terms of narrative depth the images presented do make their mark and linger in the mind. Once again doffing his cap towards Haneke, this time in his penchant for leaving things up in the air, Williams saves the best for last. Cherry Tree Lane needed more depth to the characters and is and at times stereotypical, but it is also well crafted, bluntly harsh and ends on a powerful and ambiguous note.