Cherry Tree Lane
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Cherry Tree Lane

There is a very old saying that teaches, "A man’s home is his castle", literally a place of refuge, safety and family. Among the truly disturbing crimes any of us face is the home invasion. When a dangerous person forcibly enters you home before they touch any of your possessions they have already taken away our sense of security; that feeling that the space is more than you reside; your home. This natural feeling about the security of your home has generated plot points for more films that possible to count. The audience watches in horror as the innocent family is stalked, prey within their own house. Like most plot devices this one has become rather formulaic. Still, every so often a movie comes along that reaffirms a film buff’s faith in the media. For the home invasion thriller there have been greats like ‘Wait until Dark’, arguably one of the best examples of the genre ever. While not quite there the film under consideration has come closer than the majority of examples I have come across; ‘Cherry Tree Lane’. The title immediately invokes an image in the mind of the audience of a bucolic street in a sleepy bedroom community or a small town in Middle America. In any case the image planted by the filmmaker quickly forges a bond with the viewer; one that provides the foundation for a thrill ride of terror that is about to begin. What some many modern auteurs seem to forget is a movie in this genre is supposed to rely on the psychological impact the director brings to his audience. The writer/director in this instance, Paul Andrew Williams obviously has been a fan of the classics and set out to craft a film of his own in their image. When I set out to watch I thought it would be just another case of deadly hide and seek between a resourceful family and the group of thugs bent on their demise. The thing is, in the strictest interpretation of that description it fit but as the story unfolded I found myself pulled into it, surround by a foreboding felling that went far beyond the visceral hit of a slash and dash flick or a torture flick like those that are devouring the genre.

Michael (Tom Butcher) and his wife, Christine (Rachael Blake) have a relatively peaceful life in a quite suburb away from the bustle of nearby London. The one cloud that hovers over them is an assignation that Christine had. It has noticeably chilled their relationship reducing their marriage to the formalities. At dinner the word play exhibits an undertone of the mind games frequently played under these strained circumstances. Pushing issues better left in the past Christine pushes her husband into once again confronting the name of her lover, chiding him for the mention immediately. Right away the anticipated archetype of middle class bliss is replaced him a scene from a marriage approaching the precipice of disintegration. This does change the emotional dynamic the filmmaker needs to establish with the audience significantly. Although intrinsically unlikable many in the audience can unfortunately relate. The chill of their evening is shattered when a group of youths break into their house. Two young black men, Rian (Jumayn Hunter) and Asad (Ashley Chin) and a white companion Teddy (Sonny Muslim) are intensely angry and intent on taking their ire out on the couple. They have been targeted for a betrayal perpetrated by their son, Sebastian (Tom Kane). It turns out that he committed the worse offence among the criminal element; he rated out Rian’s cousin to the authorities. This action has traditionally resulted exceptionally sever treatment as anyone who has watched any crime drama can attest. This trio had painful retribution as the sole focus of their considerable hatred. Immediately after the teens burst in under the direction of the alpha male Rian, Michael is brutally beaten, left bound with duct tape of the floor. Their attention hones in on the terrified Christine. Rian ties her up sitting beside her on the living room couch. They plan on waiting for Sebastian to return for the true focus of their vendetta.

Williams employs a classic plot device for the home invasion thriller, the wait. It has been used quite effectively in such horror films as ‘Mother’s Day’ and in a reversal of sorts in ‘Extremities’. This takes the two sides; hapless home bodies and the epitome of violence, the intruders forcing them into a crucible. The audience gets to witness the increasing effects of the pressure, anticipation and violence as it envelopes all of the characters. Albeit many of the most effective scenes from a cinematic vantage point are the explosive outbursts of violence. Despite the inherently unlikeable nature of the victimized couple much of the reservations preventing a tight identification between them and the members of the audience are overcome by the sheer inequity of the situation. Statistically more marriages are undergoing issues similar to those between Michael and Christine than are trouble free. The underlying point here is the terror that ensues could happen to anyone regardless of marital fidelity. From a scriptural vantage point rain falls upon the just and unjust alike.

Williams has several previous movies on his resume under both screenwriter and directorial credits. The majority of them have been in the crime genre although he has apparently been experimenting with the nature of his presentation. This offering takes a technique that exemplifies this heading. By restricting both the setting and the roster of characters the film takes on the look and feel of a taught, carefully crafted stage plays. This intensifies the psychological intensity of the story firming a degree of tension that is palpable. There are several additional overtones present here typical of the British variation of the youth crime thriller. Even though it is frequently minimized as a plot element there is still a class based hierarchy in the western world. Rian and his two thugs are the lower class, the disenfranchised youth striking out against the comfortable middle class. This must have made Sebastian’s betrayal even more heinous, a suburban kid playing criminal, acting out against the always feuding parents. This was icing on the cake here, the strata of motivations that pervade the movie. It is a psychological thriller well worth you time.

Posted 02/02/2013

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