Stars: Rachael Blake, Tom Butcher, Jumayn Hunter, Ashley Chin, Sonny Muslim
Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Released by Image Entertainment
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
In 2006 British writer director Paul Andrew Williams made a stunning debut with his first film, London to Brighton. It opens in the middle of the night with a young woman and a girl huddled together hiding in the back of an all night convenience store. One of them has been beaten and the other is terrified. Why are they there at that hour and what happened to them? Williams gets wonderful and very believable performances from his small cast. The script is drum tight and perfectly crafted for the limited resources of an independent film. The narrative throttles along through the world of prostitution, commenting on how people are used. It has a powerful and emotionally arresting ending. London to Brighton was in my top ten of the year and easily one of the best made low budget Indies to come along in years. Paul Andrew Williams was someone to keep an eye on.
Two years later he wrote and directed The Cottage. The film starts out as a dark comedy about kidnapping but later devolves into a hackneyed tale of backwoods horror driven by vicious maiming and killing. Some of the farm tools were used very creatively. It was sort of funny. However it was not the follow up one expected from Paul Williams. Now with his third film, Cherry Tree Lane he’s all in. All the chips are pushed across the table and we’re about to see what kind of hand he’s holding.
The film starts with a static shot of a pot cooking on a stove. It looks like some vegetables are in water. The flame under the pot burns away. The kitchen looks very well appointed. The water starts to boil. Okay it’s boiling over and no one is noticing. That makes a statement but we’ve been watching this pot for a long while. Then a man and woman go through the motions of eating dinner. It’s clear they are married and experiencing some troubles. Just what they talk about seems of no consequence. The actors toss out their lines as if they have no interest in what they are saying. The director doesn’t particularly let us hear the soft spoken dialogue either. Again he holds on a static shot of the two of them at the dinner table. He holds this shot long after we get the point. Something needs to happen.
Three youths burst through the door. They beat and tie the man up. They threaten the woman but spare her the gag she seems so afraid of if she’ll be quiet. For the bulk of the film we look at a couch with the woman and one of the thugs on it. The man writhes on the floor. Any real violence occurs off screen. We see the husband react as much as he can with his arms and legs tied and mouth gagged as his wife is dragged into a room and violated. These punks wait and wait for the couple’s son to come home. He wronged them in a drug deal and now one of their cousins is in jail. It’s apparently the son, Sebastian’s fault. They refer to him as Seb and let everyone know they are going to do him in. Someone goes out. He comes back. Two girls and a young kid come over. Every once in a while the head bad guy gives the dad a kick. It’s painfully slow. All of this happens while we are stuck in that same room looking at the couch. Yes, the son does eventually come home. The off screen violence escalates and the camera eventually moves upstairs and back down again.
Cherry Tree Lane is only 77 minutes long but the pace is languid. A series of too tight close ups break up the static shot of the couch from time to time. There may or may not be something about the class distinction between the rich parents and the wayward youths in their house. The blasé attitude that the leader shows toward violence is disturbing and may be a comment about juvenile killers. The direction of the adults is so realistic as to be banal. Things plod along with no apparent rhythm. There is almost nothing on the soundtrack except for low mumbled dialogue. Does that mean what they say is really unimportant. There is a classical piano interlude played a few times. At least twice we get to hear the sub woofer rumble as if someone were threatening us with white noise and static. The subject of home invasions has been done before. Sometimes it’s played as a thriller like Ils / Them (2006) or for comedy like Home Alone (1990). Paul Williams seems to draw an inordinate amount of style and inspiration from Michael Haneke’s French film, Funny Games (1997). That one was tough to take but it had its fans. This film may have an appeal for those who liked Funny Games, but then they have already seen it (even two times if you count the American shot for shot remake).
What’s very disappointing here is not that this is yet another home invasion film. What is such a let down is that director Williams seems to just latch on to another director’s style rather than make some decisions on his own. Where is the tremendous creativity that drove his first film? What happened to his writing? He was not given this to do the best he could with. It’s his script. He wrote it. He is an accomplished director working with a good crew. Williams didn’t settle for this but made his own decisions. London to Brighton remains an original and striking film. Hopefully one day Paul Williams will get back on that same track. Taken by itself Cherry Tree Lane is dull and derivative. Taken as the third film by a once promising filmmaker it’s a real let down.
Video – 2.35:1
The film looks very professional. Colors are all as intended. The compositions just sit there with very little going on, however it is all rendered purposefully.
Audio – English Dolby Digital 5.1 with closed caption subtitles offered in English.
Large portions of the dialogue, particularly the long establishing dinner scene are very difficult to understand. The actors mumble and toss their lines aside as if they had no interest in what they were saying. This is not the fault of the actors or the sound design. It is the director’s vision accurately realized for better or worse. There are at least two very intense bass rumbling escalations that will send your subwoofer into overdrive if you’ve got it turned up high to try to hear the dialogue.
Extras – None.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic
DVD – Good
Movie – Poor