Friday, 3 September 2010

FrightFest: Cherry Tree Lane

The interesting career journey of director Paul Andrew Williams and producer Ken Marshall continues with this uncomfortable to watch, occasionally brilliant home invasion film. A deliberately divisive work, it elicited accusations of Daily Mail-pandering from some audience members - the kind I last heard levelled at the near-perfect, more ruthlessly exploitative Eden Lake. Cherry Tree Lane is far less feverish than Lake, and even allows for some deadpan humour to seep through the grimness. And while its closest antecedent is Michael Haneke’s excellent Funny Games it doesn’t have any of the snooty audience game-playing elements of that film.

My fear when I initially heard about this film was that it would lean very heavily on the Haneke model, but Williams does some interesting things with form and tone, and it doesn’t feel like he’s holding up any mirrors to the audience - instead he’s inviting them right in, up close, to feel the discomfort, peril and outright terror of the situation. The set-up is ruthless, lean and economical - a young gang force their way into a middle class couple’s home, hold the pair hostage and assault them, while awaiting the return of the couple’s wayward son, for whom they have a major grievance, and terrible revenge to exact upon. Although it’s a very different work, this has an intensity and control that harks back to the pair’s first collaboration, London to Brighton.

And again he coaxes some real standout performances from a mostly unknown young cast - I was particularly blown away by the quiet authority of Ashley Chin as Asad, who delivers a nuanced, layered portrayal of disaffected, disconnected young man.

Williams’ confidence as a filmmaker is clearly growing and although some of the hypnotic atmosphere that is built in the opening thirty minutes (aided by an excellent UNKLE score) starts to ebb away slightly when the gang invite some additional, younger members over to the house, a frenzied and intense finale gets things back on track.

We might not like or feel at all comfortable with another film that uses white class-panic about feral youth as its basis, but while this contemporary fear continues to be ruthlessly exploited by tabloids and news organisations, it remains a subject worthy of exploration. Williams' film might not change any existing attitudes, but it stands up to the best examples of the genre, while forging an identity of its own.

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