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Movie Review: Cherry Tree Lane

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Cherry Tree Lane was one of my most anticipated movies of the EIFF 2010. Director Paul Andrew Williams, who previously did the nonsense blood-fest The Cottage and the powerful London to Brighton, has some serious talent which, when utilized correctly, delivers some extremely affecting viewing.

Unfortunately Cherry Tree Lane isn’t an example of that. Instead, despite some convincing performances, it’s a pointless and unrewarding film that does nothing new with the home invasion thriller we’ve seen so many of over the years.

The film starts with a couple coming home from work and sitting down to dinner in their living room. There’s obviously marital tension and resentment between them and we stay for quite a while just watching them having dinner and talking, the conversation verging on turning into a full-blown argument.

The doorbell rings and the woman goes to answer it. She comes back and says it was friends of their son, Sebastian, who's at football practise. A few moments later the doorbell rings again and the couple presume it’s just more of their son’s friends. However, out of nowhere three young men burst their way into the house and take the couple hostage, injuring both of them and revealing they are there to hurt their son for spreading stories of their “activities.”

That’s the basic premise of Cherry Tree Lane, and it’s not too dissimilar to that of most home invasion thrillers. But that’s just one of the many problems the film has. We’ve seen tons of these kinds of films before and thus any new offering must either do something totally new with it or just do it really well.

Since the film doesn’t do the latter, the onus must fall on it being different. But unfortunately it doesn’t do that. Instead it just presents this scenario, runs with it for 80-odd minutes, and then abruptly ends, with no real sense of satisfaction or reward for time and effort spent.

Admittedly I didn’t absolutely hate Cherry Tree Lane and in some moments got very engrossed in what was going on. However, any enjoyment I got from it was in the pure sense of just seeing what happens next. And that would be absolutely fine if the film ended in any sort of satisfying way. But it ends suddenly without really delivering a message or displaying any sort of reason why it was all worth watching.

Williams displays some moments of directorial brilliance, from his use of close-up shots of the characters' mouths as they deliver crucial dialogue to exciting moments of “will the victims escape?” However, even in those moments they don’t seem to serve a true purpose.

I would have preferred it if the film had been a lot more brutal and violent, as at least then it would have been making some sort of effective statement on youth violence. But instead it hovers in this sort of weird middle ground where it’s more violent than a glossy Hollywood film (where money is too often more important than quality) but less gutsy than it really needs to be in its display of violence. For example, the one act of violent atrocity even takes place completely off-screen, in another room than the main living room setting of the film.

Cherry Tree Lane had so much potential to be an affecting, powerful thriller that stays with you even after the credits roll. Instead it serves no real purpose other than to make you uncomfortable, and not in any sort of meaningful or interesting way, à la Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. It doesn’t spend enough time setting things up or rounding itself into a coherent whole to make the audience truly care. A real disappointment.

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