Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film notes – Cherry Tree Lane

My notes on Cherry Tree Lane.

What we have here is Funny Games and Eden Lake stuck together: it’s well-written, acted and directed and packs a punch, but comes just a little too late in the cycle to be as effective as it might be.

In a middle-class home in London N10, middle-class parents Christine (Rachael Blake) and Mike (Tom Butcher) sit down to a fairly glum evening meal when there’s a ring at the door.  Some kids looking for the couple’s son Sebastian, who is out and whom they seem to have written off as a bad lot with ‘druggy mates’.  The kids come back and barge in, holding the couple at knifepoint, binding them with masking tape and settling in to wait for Sebastian, against whom Rian (Jumayn Hunter, who was in Eden Lake) has a grudge.  In the course of the evening, Teddy (Sonny Muslim) is sent out with Mike’s credit cards and pin numbers to get cash, Asad (Ashley Chin) tries to talk in a reasonably friendly way with the bound-and-gagged man and Rian takes Christine into another room to rape her.  Late in the game, a couple of younger girls (Jenni Jacques, Corinna Douglas) and school-uniformed kid Oscar (Kieran Dooner) also show up at Rian’s invite, bringing along a hatchet.  When an argument among the intruders escalates into violence, Asad tells Mike ‘this always happens’ – naturally, the climax comes when Sebastian (Tom Kane) returns (he’s younger than we expected) and suffers at Rian’s hands while his parents get loose and retaliate.  Given that the plot deals with people who can’t see the consequences of their actions – they worry about security cameras at cashpoints but not the inadvisability of attacking wealthy white people and talk about trying not to let their victims see their faces even as they use their names all the time – it’s fair enough that they act in such a stupid manner, but that defuses the suspense somewhat.

A few apparent implausibilities – the intruders blame Sebastian for grassing up Rian’s cousin, but it’s inconceivable he could have been interviewed by the police without his parents being informed – might indicate that Rian is even wrong about the source of his vendetta, and perhaps even knows this.  Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams takes a very Funny Games-ish approach, which means long shots of Mike struggling with his bonds as violence takes place offscreen – frankly, at this stage of the game, no one needs to see more rape and torture, but we’ve also seen too many impotent hostages squirming lately.  After one tight establishing shot, we stay entirely inside the house – which lets the generally fine performances breathe: Chin is especially good as the kid so verbally abused and manipulated and generally dragged around by his supposed friends that the only actual conversation he can have is with someone tied up and gagged.  The punchline seems curtailed – with Sebastian fingerless and Rian probably beaten to death, Mike thinks the others have fled but finds schoolboy Oscar in his kitchen: will he take the big knife he is holding to the fairly innocent tagalong?  In Eden Lake, the heroine actually carried this through and paid for it – I suspect that doesn’t happen here because the other movie got there first.

There’s still a lot to be said about modern class divisions, and the terror that informs any face-off between young/poor/ethnic and middle-aged/affluent/white in Britain, and the way even a Time Out liberal can be prodded into Daily Mail outrage but, also, let’s face it, raping and torturing and robbing and bullying are wrong (bluntly, if Mike stabs Oscar after the end of the film it’s Rian’s fault – and there’d be a newspaper campaign to keep him out of jail).  The victims here aren’t instantly likeable or admirable, and they are forced to shut up for most of the film – which gives it a one-sided feel, until Christine shows maternal grief at what’s been done to her son and Mike becomes a clumsy vigilante.




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