Edinburgh 2010 Review: CHERRY TREE LANE

rating: 2.5

(Re-posted our Edinburgh Film Festival review as the movie is on limited U.K. release from Friday)Cherry Tree Laneis a deeply unpleasant movie, which isn€™t necessarily a criticism, and a very effective one, which isn€™t necessarily praise. It is the third full-length feature from Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton), who is undoubtedly an impressive young talent. Yet its story of the torment and torture of a helpless couple is something to be endured more than enjoyed, and when the end credits started rolling the general sense I got from the screening I was at was one of relief. It more or less fulfils its goals, but I am not entirely sure I approve of them. The premise is a nightmare scenario: three nefarious youngsters force their way into the household of a seemingly decent, middle-class couple. They are there because their son is mixed up in something and they intend to kill him. Exactly what the son has done to deserve their wrath is left unclear. They tie up the couple and take over the house while they await the return of their son. The leader of the pack, a truly vile character named Rian (Jumayn Hunter), quickly develops a sleazy attraction to the wife (played by Rachael Blake), his gazes provoking a real sense of dread in the viewer. Occasionally the focus is on the intruders for so long that is something of a jolt when we cut back to the helpless, beaten couple. Williams€™s camera virtually never leaves the couple€™s home (except for an opening shot of their front door). The sense of claustrophobia is established very early, before the intruders even arrive. During the opening sequence I was almost leaning forward in my chair; almost nothing was happening, and I was fascinated by it. He has clearly honed his craft as a director, and has a Hitchcockian sense of how to build and release tension in scenes. When so many movies simply use close-ups for dramatic punctuation or workmanlike over-the-shoulder conversations, the way Paul Andrew Williams employs them seems almost groundbreaking. He understands the rhythm of scenes, not just dramatically but in terms of editing individual shots together. Without doubt, he knows what he is doing. But what is that, exactly? To an extent this is a horror movie, and with a few changes it could almost be a €™70s-style rape-revenge exploitation flick. It plays on the audience€™s fears: adults€™ fear of the youth; fear of having our privacy and homes invaded; the fear of being unable to help our loved ones, even as we watch them suffer. It exploits these fears, but I do not think it has much to say about them, nor do I think it has much to say on a socio-political level. If we take it simply as a horror movie, does that justify its relentlessness? Will young people, particularly young black people, feel alienated by the way it portrays them? On top of this, there are elements about the movie that simply come across as implausible. The oblique references to the son€™s involvement with drugs seems quite a lazy connection: lots of young people dabble with drugs, but few run into bona-fide psychopaths when looking for them. When a couple of young girls turn up at the house, with their young brother, who is just a kid, to hang out with the intruders and raid the couple€™s booze, it just doesn€™t ring true. Their response to the helpless couple is inhuman, and it makes the movie seem misanthropic, even sadistic. Hitchcock famously said he liked playing the audience €˜like a piano,€™ but in this case it€™s a bit of a disappointment when you realise that€™s all Paul Andrew Williams seems to be aspiring to here. Cherry Tree Lane is released in the U.K. on Friday.
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.