Lots of folks ask me what films I am looking forward to at Frightfest, and I have trouble providing an answer, because I really don’t look too closely at each film’s premise or anything, preferring to go in blind, with leveled expectations. One exception, however, was Cherry Tree Lane, because it was directed by Paul Steven Williams, who directed The Cottage, a film I quite liked, and I had been looking forward to his followup.
However it’s a far more serious film than Cottage, which I wasn’t expecting (perhaps I should have looked more closely – see what I mean about expectations?). What I loved most about that film was its successful blend of black comedy and horror, which is tough to pull off, as one usually ends up dwarfing the other. Cherry does have humor, but its a far more serious film, with upsetting subject matter (including rape), which makes those occasional jokey moments a bit awkward.
The film is essentially yet another home invasion thriller, with a bland, not perfectly happy couple being held hostage by three youths who have been ratted out by the couple’s son, who is not home. Thus we essentially have a real-time account of the trio tying them up, holding them at knife point, and waiting for the son to come home so they can exact their revenge. Williams expertly keeps the tension up until that inevitable moment – at one point we literally watch water boil. You know something bad will happen, but you’re not sure when or from what direction (the couple’s awkwardly placed dinner table had me suspecting that they would be ambushed from the curtain-covered plate glass window next to them).
The humor is a bit Tarantino-ish at times, largely stemming from mundane things, such as one of the villains not knowing how to work the TV, which ATM they should use to withdraw money from the husband’s accounts, the fact that the son has “crap” games for his PS3, etc. Most of these asides come before it gets too dark (i.e. with the mom being raped – thankfully off-screen), but it’s still not a totally successful blend.
Tonal issues aside, it’s a damn fine suspense flick, because new wrinkles are constantly being added (the trio invite a few lady friends over, the father finds a way to free himself but it takes time he doesn’t have, etc), and with so much of the violence kept off-screen, we’re often left in the dark as to what exactly is happening (we stick to the dad’s POV for the most part). And, though not intentional, the thick British accents left me a bit unclear as to what exactly they planned to do to the kid when he came home, or even why they were after him (they are upset at him for “grassing” them, which I later learned was the same as “ratting” – I actually thought he had stolen money from them, for some reason). And of course, you know the dad will eventually get free, but you’re not sure what he’ll do when he does. Will he run? Avenge his wife? Kill the kids, or be killed himself?
Indeed, the ending is actually a bit ambiguous, with the dad spying a “bad guy” and contemplating his next move as we cut to black/credits. Like F, it leaves things up for discussion, though the film as a whole wasn’t as successful, so there wasn’t much discussion to be had, unfortunately (it didn’t help that the following film was completely ridiculous, and two of the later films were among the festival’s best offerings – Cherry, falling squarely in the middle of the quality spectrum, sort of got left by the wayside as a result.
Still, fans of Funny Games (why?) and other films should enjoy this thriller, which might not have as much to say (i.e. it’s not pretentious), but is far more suspenseful. And it features clips from Night of the Living Dead, so win-win.
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