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Friday, February 1, 2013

CHERRY TREE LANE -- DVD review by porfle

An upper middle-class English couple is plunged into their worst nightmare in the harrowing thriller CHERRY TREE LANE (2010), a film that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do with admirable economy and skill. 

The opening shot of a cookpot on the verge of boiling over serves as a none-too-subtle metaphor for what we're about to see.  Michael (Tom Butcher) and Christine (Rachael Blake) share a tense, joyless dinner together, trading tight-lipped recriminations about marital issues that will become meaningless the second their home is invaded by a gang of ruthless teens out for revenge against their son Sebastian for ratting out one of their own to the police.

Before they know it, Michael and Christine are bound with tape and beaten into submission by two black youths, cousins Rian (Jumayn Hunter) and Asad (Ashley Chin), and their white friend Teddy (Sonny Muslim), who then make themselves at home as they wait for "Sebby" to return.  Plotwise, that's pretty much it--all the suspense and tension of a film like THE DESPERATE HOURS (or the last ten minutes of THE PROPOSITION) is distilled down to a basic straightforward nightmare tale that reminds me in a strange way of such "predicament" thrillers as OPEN WATER and FROZEN, which place innocent people into an ordeal in which they, and we, must endure each painful moment with no relief or rescue in sight.

In this way, CHERRY TREE LANE is also somewhat similar (though not nearly as profoundly disturbing) to the ultimate tale of disaffected British brats terrorizing their elders, EDEN LAKE.  But Jumayn Hunter merely played a blind follower in that film's vicious gang--here, he's the volatile, sociopathic ringleader whose occasionally calm demeanor can explode into violence and outrage without warning.  We're never quite sure what Rian's going to do as he toys with the bound Christine on the couch, speaking in reasonable tones one moment and then savagely threatening her with a knife the next.

Rian's cousin Asad, who nurses a faintly glowing smidgen of humanity, is slightly more reticent to commit certain acts--rape, for example, goes against his monogamous feelings for his girlfriend--and he rolls his eyes when Rian punches out one of the ditzy chav girls who show up later to get in on the fun.  Some of the film's most interesting passages involve Asad casually chatting it up with the brutally beaten Michael, who's sprawled on the floor at his feet, in a weirdly matter-of-fact way that shows how utterly uncomprehending he is of the horror surrounding them. 

While all of the performances here are top-notch, both Hunter and Chin display a knack for natural acting that lends their scenes an almost documentary feel.  As Christine, Rachael Blake's conveys quiet desperation and shivering dread, not only for herself and Michael but for their son's impending fate, while Tom Butcher ably embodies our rage and frustration at being powerless to stop the brutalization of his family.  

Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams' visual style is consistently impressive throughout, yet never draws undue attention to itself.  (Of particular interest is how he cuts away from the worst acts of violence at every turn, with muffled screams and chaotic background noises forcing us to share the protagonists' helpless concern for each other.) 
While keeping things interesting to look at--often using extreme close-ups so that the viewer remains involved to an uncomfortable degree--Williams maintains a lean, straightforward narrative that speeds inexorably from one heartpounding situation to the next until the shattering conclusion. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Closed captions, but no subtitles or extras.

This is the sort of story which, done poorly, can be nothing more than a pointless exercise in graphic violence, brutality, and general unpleasantness for their own exploitative sake.  But when done as impeccably as in CHERRY TREE LANE, it becomes a viewing experience of exhilarating immediacy and nerve-wracking, almost disorienting suspense.

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