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The Cottage (2008)
29th Mar 08
Deep in a forest, hiding away inside a secluded cottage, are two brothers - the under-the-thumb Peter (Reece Shearsmith) and the fiery David (Andy Serkis). They have kidnapped and are holding hostage the daughter of a gangland boss, Tracey (Jennifer Ellison), as they await the delivery of the expected ransom money for her release.
Things do not go according to plan. For starters even though most of the time their hostage is gagged and bound she still manages to humiliate them with the odd physical and verbal assault. Add to that Tracey's plonker of a stepbrother Andrew (Steven O'Donnell), who has unwittingly led two henchmen to their hide-away and things aren't looking too great. If that wasn't enough bad fortune, there is also something unexpected lurking in the abode across the way that has a habit of chopping people up.
The reaction to writer-director Paul Andrew Williams' second feature has been surprisingly negative. Much of this has stemmed from the fact that Williams dared to buck expectations by not following up on his acclaimed, award-winning debut, 2006's gritty drama London to Brighton with something of a similar ilk. Rather than wait and see what he came up with next, critics and film fans alike had already pigeonholed him. Indeed he was even labelled the new Ken Loach all because of this one flick.
Whatever he churned out had to the same for the rather backward-thinking critical establishment, or rather if it wasn't of the same genre, then it damn well better be gritty too. It's a no-win as once the filmmaker has been labelled for making a particular type of movie then they get criticised for doing so. It therefore came as some surprise to find that his comedy-horror The Cottage was of a more frivolous nature, more akin to a Tom-and-Jerry style energy. His movie is a guilty pleasure the likes of which genre fans would once have leapt upon and raved about.
Williams had penned his script for The Cottage some five years ago now, pre-dating the ultimate comedy-horror Shaun of the Dead (2004), with the intention of it being his first feature. As a result of the accolades he won for his blistering London to Brighton, Williams got the funding he needed to put his comedy-horror onto the big screen courtesy of the Lottery and the UK Film Council to the tune of an estimated £2.5million. Filming took place over six weeks on the Isle of Man.
The Cottage makes no secret of the tone it is setting from the word off with Laura Rossi's Danny Elfman-sounding score, bringing to mind his Beetlejuice work, bouncing along with a malicious glee. Even the advertising campaign made no secret of the fact that this was going to be a comedy-horror, so how on Earth did so many critics go in expecting something else? Indeed one online critic bemoaned that the movie wasn't very realistic. From where I was sat I wasn't expecting it to be realistic. I was expecting something that I could enjoy with a six-pack to hand and that's what I got.
It races along with an energy lacking in other comedy horrors - Severance (2006) as good as you were, you did fail on this count - and the change in direction is well measured unlike From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) which really did feel like two movies trying to breath under one title.
The movie also boasts some great performances into better characterisations than you would expect. Andy Serkis, as the more assertive brother, conveys seething rage well and proves adept at being the straight man to The League of Gentlemen's Reece Shearsmith who does a good scream, especially when confronted by a roomful of moths (this will make sense when you see it) - theirs a double act that never tires.
Former Brookside star and regular lad mag favourite Jennifer Ellison steals every scene she is in as Tracey, with her admittedly one-note character, swearing and head-butting her way through proceedings. Indeed her Tracey is more monstrous than The Farmer. It would have been interesting to see how the movie would have worked had Tracey been around 40-years of age as Williams had originally scripted. (He had to change the age to secure funding). The real star of The Cottage is Steven O'Donnell as stepbrother Andrew whom bumbles his way through some already seriously wrong situations and makes them worse.
The Cottage knows what it is and is proud of it too. With the best cartoon violence this side of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the laughs come thick and fast, only tending to dry up a little once a main character loses their head and the energy invested earlier tends to lag. The dialogue throughout is smart and plays well. It is also nice to have a bunch of characters that you don't necessarily want to empathise with and instead take great glee at seeing them meet with a sticky, gory end. The Farmer's make-up is a little on the dodgy side if you chose to take Williams' effort more seriously than it was intended. Take it as the fun ride it was intended and the make-up is in keeping with the cartoon sensibilities of the piece.
The more eagle-eyed amongst you will spot Doug Bradley, better known as Pinhead from the Hellraiser series. Alos, make sure you sit around for the final scene that comes after the end credits. This reviewer missed out, all too keen to get his bus home rather than wait half an hour for the next one in the rain, however I can reveal that the scene involves a cameo from a well-known British star as Tracey's father and tidies up a plot hole. Ignore the establishment critics and go in with an open mind.