Cherry Tree Lane and Jackboots on Whitehall

Cherry Tree Lane

Home invasion horror from Paul Andrew Williams, director of the much admired London to Brighton. Like that debut (he’s subsequently made The Cottage, which I haven’t seen) it’s a film that boasts some strong performances but is also manipulative, and has a credibility gap that makes it tough to buy into.

London to Brighton, the story of a prostitute’s attempts to protect a young girl from a gangster, lacked tension for me because I did not believe for one moment that the film was going to end with the murder of a child. Cherry Tree Lane, similarly, tries to unsettle the audience but a predictability to the plotting makes it hard to emotionally invest in the characters.

A suburban, 40ish couple (Tom Butcher and Rachael Blake) are eating at home when they are visited and tied up by three violent youths who are looking for their son. The film plays out in real time as they, and we, await the boy’s return.

The action is kept tight, the claustrophobic nature of the situation reinforced by keeping the shots largely confined to close ups. Much of the potentially upsetting images – specifically the rape of the wife by the young leader – are wisely kept offscreen, leaving us (and the husband) to mentally fill in the details. But in the climactic scenes the camera still holds back, when it should be dragging us into the thick of the horror along with the supposed viewpoint character.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this has anything to say about knife crime, youth violence or drugs culture. It’s a slasher film for middle class parents, pure and simple, and every bit as shallow and manipulative as that implies. If you accept it on these terms, the film succeeds reasonably well but for it to really work you need not to have seen Last House on the Left (others also disparagingly compared it to Funny Games). I have, and I didn’t need to see it again.

Jackboots on Whitehall

Bizarre animation that mixes It Happened Here with Team America: World Police. A starry cast, including Ewan McGregor, Rosamund Pike and Timothy Spall (as Winston Churchill) voice the Action Man/Barbie style characters in the story of a Nazi invasion of Britain following an unsuccessful evacuation of Dunkirk.

Though the film is rarely less than amusing, the jokes are far too thinly spread out – really, this is a terrific short film that’s been extended by about an hour too much. But the model characters are a joy, from big-naded hero Christopher to the Gollum/Scream style Goebbels and perpetually-smoking Churchill. Given how stiff the actual puppets are (their mouths flap, Thunderbirds style, but that’s pretty much it) they are surprisingly expressive. It all feels a bit childish though. You’re left with the feeling that it would be more fun to spend the time playing with all the fabulous little model soldiers, planes and tanks.


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