The home invasion genre is as irresistible as a cinematic zombie outbreak.
Even in crude hands you can't help but watch, eager for the harried homeowners to strike back at the intruders.
Cherry Tree Lane has more on its mind that blind vengeance. The film, available Jan. 29 on DVD, packs visceral firepower (without revealing the violence) and serves up a stinging rebuke to class resentment.
The English import begins with a middle-class couple (Rachael Blake and Tom Butcher) sitting down for an emotionally prickly dinner. They're going through the motions as long-married couples often do, but it's clear they have more on their minds than sipping Merlot.
The static charge crackling between them must wait when they hear a knock at the door. Three young thugs--two black, one white--barge in and take them hostage. The intruders aren't technically interested in the couple. They're here for the son, due back soon. It's anyone's guess whether the parents will live long enough to see their son come home.
Director Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton) keeps most of the nasty stuff off screen. The sight of the couple being tied up, kicked and tormented is front and center, but the harsher bits are left to our imagination. Williams doesn't need cheap theatrics. His cast is achingly perfect, particularly Jumayn Hunter as the charismatic leader of the thugs.
We spend plenty of time with the couple essentially still, leaving the intruders to keep us company. They're a fascinating lot, seething with jealousy over the creature comforts all around them. Hunter's character mocks the couple for their extensive collection of foreign films ("you're not even foreign," he barks), and the sight of expensive liquor excites their dulled senses.
The trio exhibit flickers of morality, but their sense of others ends as soon as it's convenient. Hunter's character in particular is a case study that should scare us silly. What he needs, he takes. What he deems worthy of punishment isn't based on any societal norms, but rules he makes up to suit the situation.
That these monsters come from homes with a modicum of parental involvement is the most frightening revelation of all. They've either been taught to take what they want, or no one told them the error of those ways.
The film wraps on an expected note, but Williams gives the sequence a vibrancy that defies genre expectations. It's brief and provocative, like the film preceding it.