Michael (Tom Butcher) and Christine (Rachel Blake) are a middle-class couple who live at 18 Cherry Tree Lane, a tidy property in Central London which they appear to keep fastidiously clean.

It's 7.52pm when the film opens. Both have just returned home from their respective jobs and their teenage son Sebastian is out at football practice.

The pair settle down to eat a meal that Christine has prepared. Minor bickering over whether or not the television should be kept on is trivial compared to Michael's suspicions that Christine may have had an affair with a colleague.

But any arguments will have to wait: the doorbell rings and Christine answers, to three of Sebastian's friends. She tells them that he won't be in until 9pm and bids them farewell. No sooner has she sat back down at the dinner table and the bell rings again.

This time, when Christine answers the door, the hoodlums barge into the house and beat the two adults. Finding masking tape in the kitchen, the three knife-wielding youths - Teddy (Sonny Muslim), Asad (Ashley Chin) and ringleader Rian (Jumayn Hunter) - bind and gag their victims.

With Michael laid incapacitated on the living room carpet and Christine sat trembling on the settee next to the fuming Rian, they listen to their assailants' childish banter and gradually realise that their son has turned grass on a fellow drug-dealer - and now he must be punished.

Following a sedate 10-minute opening where you're led to believe that Paul Andrew Williams' latest film is going to be a mild domestic drama (he previously gave us LONDON TO BRIGHTON and THE COTTAGE), CHERRY TREE LANE ups the ante and spends the remainder of its lean 74-minute running time revelling in the agony of fearful parents dreading their doomed son's impending return.

It's a simple, economic premise and the entire film is shot in the single location of their house (something of a relief, I assume, to the Lottery-funded UK Film Council - they helped finance the production). Williams is a directorial talent and it goes without saying that he is capable of preventing the action from ever looking stagey.

For the most part, this is a tense counter culture thriller that tackles the omnipresent fear of modern youth in a more convincing manner than EDEN LAKE or THEM. These kids though are not so much hoodies, as wannabe gangstas. As a result, Portsmouth-born Williams' script doesn't always have a handle on the young villains' dialect and some of it sounds incredibly ham-fisted.

Kudos to the cast though who, a couple of later peripheral female characters and Butcher's inability to exhibit grief aside, do a fine job of making the dialogue stick. Hunter is a great meanie, full of intensity and with a face that you'd naturally want to slap. Muslim is saddled with the unwise wisecracks but fares okay - he also provides a couple of his own rap tunes to the soundtrack.

Speaking of which, the film is low-key in terms of music. The only music actually heard during the film (including Muslim's) is on the TV music channel that Asad watches while waiting for Sebastian's return. Elsewhere, the film relies on pregnant silences and some disturbing sounds to illustrate what Williams never explicitly shows - much of the violence occurs off-screen, but is no less gruelling as a consequence.

The lack of a dramatic score and the deception of employing off-screen violence echo FUNNY GAMES. But Williams is not a messenger in the same respect that Michael Haneke is, and any questions he poses reek of artifice. Also, the humour - while not unwelcome - prevents the film from resonating with the same level as the Austrian auteur's masterpiece.

Still, CHERRY TREE LANE is a solid, gripping slice of food for thought. The ambiguous ending is clearly designed as a moral talking point and works as such. Everything leading up to that is good stuff, albeit in a small-seeming way.

Ultimately, CHERRY TREE LANE is good but wouldn't look out of place as a made-for-TV drama (a fine one at that). It's not as nail biting or as true as LONDON TO BRIGHTON, nor is it as entertaining as THE COTTAGE.

Metrodome's screener disc was free of extras or menus.

The film was presented in anamorphic 2.35:1, in a presentation that looked sharp and clean. English 2.0 audio was a little quiet in earlier scenes, but became more consistent as the film progressed.

Obviously, there's no telling whether these specifications will alter for the retail release.

One thing that may be worth highlighting is that the film is released on DVD on 13 September 2010. Coincidentally (and potentially confusingly), there is a book of the same name being released on that same date. The book is by Anna Jacobs and bears no relation whatsoever to Williams' film.

CHERRY TREE LANE (the film!) is an at-times riveting small-scale thriller with just enough tension to ensure you'll make it through to its challenging conclusion.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Metrodome
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review