After some scene-setting domestic tension between nice, middle-class couple Mike and Christine (Tom Butcher and Rachael Blake), the story really gets going when their home is invaded by three youths intent on punishing the couple’s teenage son Sebastian for grassing on gang leader Rian’s (Jumayn Hunter) cousin and landing him with a ten year prison sentence.
Discovering the youth is out, the gang take Mike and Christine hostage in their lounge – where the camera and action remain for most of the film – until Sebastian returns home to face punishment for his perceived crime.
What follows is a real-time play in which the gang restrain and then intimidate the couple before Rian sends one of his little helpers to the ATM with Mike’s stack of debit cards while they wait for their real victim.
Sadly the story hadn’t progressed too far when I found myself questioning its credibility.
When Rian asserts that he’ll know if his mate gets light fingered because even he can multiply the number of cards by the allowed maximum of withdrawal of £300, I questioned why he assumed to know Mike’s withdrawal limit.
Sure, £300 might be a fairly standard level but Mike’s a guy with half a dozen cards, a nice house with an expensive TV and seemingly lavish furnishings – why wouldn’t he have a premium bank account allowing larger withdrawals?
Why, having established that Christine has no idea what Mike’s PINs are, does Rian not think to see if she has her own bank accounts and clear those out too?
Plus, given that the gang is already way beyond the law by this stage, why would they risk being caught on the bank’s CCTV when they’re known associates of a recently jailed crook?
But what really kept gnawing away at me was why the couple seemingly had no idea that their son had been instrumental in getting a local low-life sent down.
Could he have done this without giving evidence in court, something they’d surely have known about? If they did know about it surely they, and the police, would have known there’d be some risk of retribution?
Then, seemingly out of nowhere and despite having earlier admonished her for assuming he was going to harm her, Rian suddenly reveals a preference for the older female and drags Christine kicking and screaming into the next room (where the camera doesn’t follow) to rape her.
As with most of the film’s violence, writer Paul Andrew Williams deserves credit for keeping this off-screen, opting instead to use Mike and the third gang member’s reactions to Christine’s screams to convey the sheer brutality of what’s occurring.
But though the entire audience is likely to be grateful for this decision, given that Rian is a brutal thug who has already humiliated the couple and plans to have them witness the punishment that awaits their son, is it believable within the plot?
By the time Rian’s Vicky Pollard-like girlfriend arrived, complete with kid brother in tow, to witness the eventual punishment of Sebastian I’d pretty much given up on the plausibility of film’s villains. First they leave CCTV evidence that one of their gang was responsible for making the cash withdrawals, now they’re happy to have a terrified kid witness the aftermath of a rape and Sebastian’s punishment?
Sure, they could just be dumb guys except that throughout the film Williams opts to have them fill the void created by the single room setting and offscreen brutality by pondering on the meaning of life and other such philosophical concerns. These guys are no dumbos, except when it suits the plot.
Blake and Butcher do well in their performances as the terrified couple but the actors playing gang can’t help coming across as three nice lads trying to play it rough – I was constantly reminded of Posh Kenneth from the first two seasons of Skins.
Though the film only runs 78 minutes it felt much longer, largely because not a lot happens for much of it.
Maybe it’s because of the offscreen nature of the violence, but the plot largely lacks any sense of impending menace or threat and it’s hard not to keep believing that, one way or another, things will work out for the best. When it does come, the conclusion is fast, brutal and well shot but ultimately delivers no real surprises.
Cherry Tree Lane is available on DVD from September 13th
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