Cherry Tree Lane

Rating:

Cherry Tree Lane.  The Strangers, It Ain’t.

Main Cast: Jumayne Hunter, Ashley Chin

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Well, that was…brief. I think you can tell a lot about a movie before it even starts just by the running time. Between the 1930s and 1960s, you could cram a lot of story into 70 minutes. Just look at some of the “horror” classics of those days like Black Dragon or One Body Too Many. But nowadays, I just don’t see many 70 minute movies that feel like a complete story to me. Take writer/director Paul Andrew Williams’ 2010 movie Cherry Tree Lane about a suburban English couple who have their home invaded by a trio of teens seeking revenge on their son for informing on the cousin of the ringleader, Rian.

Christine (Rachael Blake, Sleeping Beauty) and Michael (Tom Butcher, “Crime Stories”) are beaten, bound, and help captive in their house until their son, Sebastian, is due home at 9:00. Asad (Ashley Chin, “Silent Witness) flips through the DVDs, tossing them on the floor, lays the family photos face down, then beats Michael in the head with the TV remote until he tells him how to active the cable guide. Teddy steals weed from Sebastian’s room. Rian (Jumayne Hunter, Attack the Block) rifles through Michael’s wallet, stealing all 6 of his ATM cards and demanding the PIN numbers so they can send some money to Rian’s cousin in prison. They ask where are the good DVDs, the porn. Christine shakes her head, leading Rian to suggest Michael’s got them hidden and, considering the tension between the two in the previous scene while they ate dinner before the three teens broke in, my first thought was the next hour or so would be spent in a suspenseful struggle between the two adults as secrets were revealed and they realized they didn’t know each other at all. It certainly would have been more entertaining than watching these kids sit around and cuss for kicks, making Christine stand up and show off how “fit” she is–after Rian shows off his abs, of course, because he works out because he knows what looks good–or Asad bringing Michael a glass of orange juice and reminding him ad nauseum that, if he screams, “I’ll cut you.”

I waited and waited for Christine or Michael to show an ounce of backbone, to stand up to the bullies and at least attempt to fight back. Instead Christine is dragged away into another room by Rian for the obligatory off camera rape while Michael struggles to no avail against the single strip of duct tape around his wrists.

Finally, it’s been 72 minutes (full run time is 77 minutes, but 5 of those are, somehow, end credits), and the movie ends on such a sudden and pointless note, you have to wonder if Netflix was streaming the movie on actual film and maybe the third reel got lost somewhere in transit.

Williams has a history with horror films like The Children and The Cottage, neither of which I’ve seen, but I can tell from this one that he knows the genre well enough. It’s story I think he’s got a problem with, at least as far as this movie is concerned.

There’s just not much of one here.

It feels like Williams got us right up to the point of most dramatic tension, put us at the cusp of a really tense third act, then said “ah, forget it” and went for the quick 3-minute ending instead, wrapping things up in pathetic fashion and leaving the audience waiting for any kind of pay off after what we, and the characters, just went through.

Imagine if, in Jaws, everything went as normal, but in the scene where Brody is spooning chum into the water and the shark rears up and terrifies the audience, if Brody had tossed an air tank into the shark’s mouth at that moment, then fired, blowing it up and the movie was over…you’d feel pretty let down, right? That’s how this movie felt. And it didn’t have to. There was so much potential here for the story to go another half hour and really put all of the characters through the ringer. Sure, in the end, it wouldn’t have been the most original story (The Strangers did it a million times better), but it would have been something.

The cast was okay, given what they had to work with. Rachael Blake and Tom Butcher as Christine and Michael don’t have to do much but look helpless, which they manage fine. Jumayn Hunter and Ashley Chin get the most screen time, both giving their THUG LIFE street tough’s just enough personality to be clichés, especially for this type of movie. It’s not that I don’t believe characters like they portray exist, I totally do, it’s just that, in this type of story I’m a little too used to seeing the irrational, reactionary leader who is in turn led by his emotions–Rian–and the less-impulsive, more thoughtful sidekick–Asad–who, when the angry leader isn’t looking, brings the captive a glass of orange juice. Seen it. Surely something more could have been done there. But I lay that at Williams’ feet; he wrote the characters, Hunter and Chin just had to bring them to life as best they could.

Like I said, there was a ton of potential here. I enjoyed a lot of this movie–most of it, in fact–but, man, it was just that ending, that whole last few minutes, in fact. It was all action but no excitement. Maybe it was a budget issue, maybe it was time, or maybe Williams just didn’t have enough story to flesh it out the way it needed to be done. Whatever the reason, Cherry Tree Lane is not the movie it could have been, and it suffers greatly for it.

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