Cherry Tree Lane
Directed by Paul Andrew Williams
Starring: Rachael Blake, Tom Butcher, Jumayn Hunter, Ashley Chin, Sonny Muslim
Runtime: 77 Minutes
Films like Cherry Tree Lane are diamonds in the rough. For every horror film that’s released a year, few are actually noteworthy, while most settle for being so-bad-it’s-good (or bad) schlock. Yet when one comes along that shows true talent and ambition, it deserves to be praised. While not a perfect film, Cherry Tree Lane showcases Paul Andrew Williams strong directorial abilities. Williams has turned in a tense, gripping thriller that’s a far cut above the rest.
Williams is the reason Cherry Tree Lane works, although he does get some help from his cast. Jumayn Hunter plays up his character Rian’s characterization as the worst human being imaginable, never allowing us to like him. He’s perverse, deranged, and everything someone of his ilk should be. His victims, Christine and Mike (Rachael Blake and Tom Butcher, respectively,) spend most of the movie tied and gagged, but their fear is truly captured in each of their performances. As expected, the majority of their performance is captured in their eyes. Fear is written all across their performance, as is desperation, given when Butcher’s Mike tries to knock the kitchen knife from the table to free himself.
The rest of the cast is serviceable. Rian’s thugs, played by Ashley Chin and Sonny Muslim, make fine lackeys, although Muslim’s Teddy definitely fulfills that role more than Chin. Chin plays Asad, who’s the ‘good’ thief of the group. He plays it with enough nobility to believe he really is just along for the ride of Rian’s antics.
But Williams’ aesthetics are the real star of this picture. He has a good understanding of sound, using some great ambiances and effects, such as a slow motion shot when Rian’s smoking. And where most directors of these pictures would pump the music up to raise the tension, Williams holds back, confident his camera work will pay off. The gamble works, as Williams seems pulled from the school that uses long takes to enhance the terror. While that could turn off some viewers, for this particular tale, the one shots and tout camera moves all but help intensify the fear. The true genius of the sound design comes when we only hear things happening off screen, such as a Srape. Again, Williams is relying on reactions of his actors rather than something to shock and awe the audience.
True, there are flaws. Rian’s friends that later show up leave much to be desired, and there are elements of the movie that seem too conventional. But even this, the limited budget is never felt. Not once does it feel like we’re watching a filmmaker do the best he could with what he was given. Instead, we’re watching a filmmaker give a fine effort and not phone in “just another gory horror film.”
And when there’s that kind of talent on display, it deserves to be championed. Paul Andrew Williams has a solid career ahead of him, and it’ll be both exciting and interesting to see where he goes. For now, he’s crafted a chilling, suspense caper that echoes very early Hitchcock pictures by way of Reservoir Dogs, which makes Cherry Tree Lane worthy of your time.