Paul Andrew Williams is turning into a force to be reckoned with. I caught London To Brighton by accident and was happily surprised with The Cottage, but Cherry Tree Lane is an important step up for Williams. While his latest film definitely demands more of its audience it is definitely worth the investment, delivering a unique twist most like-minded films have neglected so far. It elevates the film above simple horror fodder.
Britain is having some trouble with its off-spring, so much is obvious from watching their movie output the last couple of years. Films like Harry Brown and Eden Lake clearly address these issues, Shankland's The Children even went a few steps further. Williams builds on these films but changes the setting, focusing more on city youngsters (think Kidulthood) rather than country folk.
But there's a more profound difference between the films I mentioned and Cherry Tree Lane. While the kids in previous films are often demonized and portrayed as black and white style bad guys, Williams gives them a more human edge. These are not so much film characters as they are regular people doing their thing. It doesn't make their deeds less moral or despicable, yet it conveys the message behind the film a whole lot better. It's a brave move that no doubt will turn some people off (as things can seem a little boring at times), but I firmly believe it's the film's main strength.
The story is slim and to the point. A man and woman are dining together, it's obvious their relationship is in need of some serious fixing. These marital problems fade very quickly when their house is invaded by a couple of youngsters looking for the couple's son. The actual conflict between both parties is never really pursued, instead the film focuses on the time the youngster hold the parents hostage, waiting for their son to come home. Boredom because an important factor in the escalation of the events.
Cherry Tree Lane is basically a single-location film. There are a few scenes where characters stroll out to different rooms around the house, but most of the action happens in the living room. While Williams' visual options are limited he makes the most of them. The living room is stylishly decorated, bathing in blue hues and matching decorations. The camera work is meticulous, even including some well-timed, almost Elephant-like slow-motion sequences.
The soundtrack is strong too. Williams singles out several scenes that are purely there for establishing the atmosphere. The music itself might not be all that exciting (mostly moody ambient and soundscapes), but it is used to great effect. A good example of tried choices that work out in favor of a film. The acting is equally satisfying with good performances of the whole (though limited) cast. Williams has all bases covered.
The only real problem with Cherry Tree Lane is that it doesn't offer much. The film has a very tight focus point and builds everything around it. If it doesn't grab or interest you there is very little to keep you amused. It's a short film but even these 70 minutes will start to drag if Williams' point doesn't come across. I for one didn't mind the slow pacing and the very limited scope of the film, but it's obvious others definitely will.
Cherry Tree Lane gives a quick peek in the morals of certain groups of youngsters. Even though they invade the house and take the parents hostage, they still act like regular brats. The don't act out of some devilish meanness but simple revenge. Of course their actions cross boundaries, but apart from their lacking morals these young men are basically just like the rest of us. In that sense the film doesn't really play on fear or shock, but delivers a more reality-grounded view on such events and the people involved.
Williams delivers a short, poignant and strong film. He cuts out all the parts that don't relate to the core of the matter making it small in scope and leaving little for those who can't identify with the main point of the film, but for those who can it only makes the film stronger. Cherry Tree Lane offers an interesting take on the youth issues in Britain and while the events in this film still carry a certain cinematic weight, they feel more realistic than one would expect for such a stylized film. Recommended.