Thursday, 7 March 2013

Cherry Tree Lane - watch Mary Poppins instead...

Cherry Tree Lane

Not so Funny Games

A middle-aged, middle class couple (Tom Butcher and Rachael Blake) frostily eat dinner, sniping at each other over whether or not they should have the telly on (he wants to watch the news, she doesn’t), their unspoken hostility the result of her previous infidelity with a work colleague. So far, so Mike Leigh. The doorbell rings. A gang of hoodies push their way into the house, tie them up and spend the next hour brutalising them while waiting for the couple’s teenage son (a schoolmate who has earned their wrath) to return home. And. That’s. It. No, really. That’s the entire film!

A middle class Little Englander vision of Broken Britain, Cherry Tree Lane is a home invasion thriller that owes more than a little to Austrian chuckle-meister Michael Haneke’s loathsome Funny Games. But where Funny Games was a hectoring harangue directed at the audience which ruthlessly dissected Hollywood genre conventions and the audiences scopophiliac expectation, Cherry Tree Lane is content to play on its audience’s tabloid-inspired anxiety of the underclass. Williams’ hoodies aren’t the polite, coldly intelligent, young sociopaths of Haneke’s film, they’re one-dimensional, inarticulate teenage thugs who treat an evening of rape and murder as a bit of an inconvenience that interferes with their telly viewing, one of them even calling his mum to ask her to tape a programme he’s missing. And I’m not even going to open the obvious racial can of worms that is the ethnic background of Cherry Tree Lane’s assailants as opposed to the clean-cut Aryans of Funny Games. Oops, silly me, I’ve gone and done it, worms all over the floor.

Unfolding in real-time, watching Cherry Tree Lane is far more tortuous for the audience than it is for its protagonists. Williams seems unsure what to do with his characters once he’s set up his situation, so we get the hoodies bickering, eating biscuits, smoking a spliff, critiquing the family’s DVD collection and occasionally indulging in a bit of random brutality until the leader gets a bit rape-happy and drags the wife from the room to engage in a spot of off-screen sexual assault. And there lies Cherry Tree Lane’s major problem. The good stuff all happens off-screen.

Shorn of Haneke’s dour moral arguments and rhetoric, Cherry Tree Lane is just a genre movie without teeth and what’s the point of that? It doesn’t have the slick excitement of David Fincher’s Panic Room, the creeping horror and menace of Ils (Them), the intelligence and gender politics of Straw Dogs, the sleazy exploitation thrills and dodgy morality of The House on the Edge of the Park or the gore and sheer Gallic insanity of Inside. Haneke was right; as an audience we expect certain guilty pleasures from this kind of movie. We want sex, we want violence, we want to be scared. But contrary to what Haneke thinks, we’re not wrong to want these things. That’s why we’re watching in the first place. We don’t want hoodies discussing the merits of different types of biscuits. Not unless they’re, say, cutting an unborn foetus from a victim at the same time (The Lost). We want them to scare us. We want our brutalised underdogs to fight back. We want the wet-blanket hubby to grow some balls and take someone out with a bear trap the way Dustin Hoffman does in Straw Dogs. And we don’t want these things happening off-screen either. I’m no fan of torture-porn but I’m not watching a film like Cherry Tree Lane for the wit and sparkling dialogue. I want a little gratification.

The most disappointing thing about Cherry Tree Lane however is that it’s looking increasingly likely that writer/director Paul Andrew Williams isn’t going to make another film as good as his 2006 debut movie London to Brighton, which was as refreshing and unpredictable as Cherry Tree Lane is bland and boring. Even his second film, the misfiring, blackly comic, horror flick The Cottage had its moments. Admittedly they were when some inbred took a hatchet to Jennifer Ellison and Gollum but give Williams his due, he was giving his audience what it wanted. Namely, for some inbred to take a hatchet to Jennifer Ellison and Gollum.

Lacking the enthralling power of London to Brighton or the guilty, gross-out laughs of The Cottage, the most subversive thing about Cherry Tree Lane is its title; Cherry Tree Lane was, of course, where the family lived in Mary Poppins, a much better, more intelligent film than Cherry Tree Lane. Seriously. Watch Mary Poppins; it’s a better way to spend your time.

David Watson

Paul Andrew Williams
Sonny Muslim, Kieran Dooner, Rachael Blake, Jenny Jacques, Jumayn Hunter, Tom Butcher, Tom Kane, Corinne Douglas, Ashley Chin
Paul Andrew Williams
Running time

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