Following a misguided sojourn into Horror-Comedy with 2008s The Cottage, Paul Andrew Williams returns to more serious material in Cherry Tree Lane.
Lessons have been learned and the best horror mechanics have been retained while reducing the humour to a droll snarl; this is combined with the grueling and intense tone of London to Brighton, commanding a great sense of urgency, enhancing the otherwise familiar story with an original allure.
Clearly of the same Pedigree as Haneke’s Funny Games, the plot revolves around another middle class family besieged by a group of troubled youths. But unlike Funny Games, the reasons for the attack are largely character motivated.
Rian (an astounding Jamayn Hunter), the leader of the group, wants to reek bloody revenge on young Sebastian (Tom Kane) for reporting his drug dealing cousin to the police, damning him to a ten year prison sentence. But when Sebastian isn’t home, the group decides to hold his parents captive until he arrives. From there, the situation escalates to a shuddering, bleak, and horrifying conclusion.
The whole thing begins mundanely enough, the subtle tensions of middle class life are made apparent in the strained relationship between Sebastian’s parents.
But from the moment the young assailants force their way into this suburban environment, a ferocious explosion of savagery and anger infects the atmosphere. In turn, the violence of the situation is heavily exploited and largely serves to facilitate a vague meditation on class divisions.
It is rich subject matter and begs to be engaged with.
It is a shame then that the filmmakers never quite get to the meat of the matter.
What starts auspiciously enough as a stab at class commentary eventually fizzles out into a simple tale of violence begetting more violence. It alludes to nothing deeper than ‘an eye for an eye’.
But to William’s credit there is always a sense that what we are seeing is merely the tip of the iceberg. Even the most throwaway dialogue feels like a puzzle to be solved and implies a terrible circumstance that aches to be understood. But it is destructiveness that takes center stage, overshadowing the thematic debates established in this initial act.
Although one major pitfall is mercifully avoided as the potential ‘hoodies’ are presented as individual personalities with their own fears, thoughts and desires.
They are not some homogonous mass of ASBO nightmares hell bent on ruining the lives of wine guzzling BMW drivers everywhere. By doing this, Williams avoids association with such Daily Mail wank material as Harry Brown and Eden Lake.
However, he lets himself down by not granting enough depth to characters introduced in the final reel, all of whom enter the film merely to facilitate the shocking yet symbol heavy ending.
Despite the obvious flaws, this is still Horror at its best, one where the monster is not some demon, some physical manifestation of ultimate evil, but the terrifying extremes of human emotion and the despicable actions they lead us to perform. This element pays off in the grand finale which is of such a nausea inducing extreme, of such visceral intensity and so deeply upsetting that it is impossible to expunge from your memory. Every muffled scream and broken bone will haunt you long after the credits have rolled which proves that Williams still has the power to truly affect his audience.