Monday 21 July 2008

The Cottage (2008)

Monday 21 July 2008
Writer & Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Cast: Andy Serkis (David), Reece Shearsmith (Peter), Jennifer Ellison (Tracey), Steven O'Donnell (Andrew), Dave Legeno (The Farmer), Jonathan Chan-Pensley (Chun Yo Fu), Doug Bradley (Old Man), Georgia Groome (Farmer's Daughter #1), Eden Groome (Farmer's Daughter #2), Johnny Harris (Smoking Joe), Katy Murphy (Farmer's Wife), Simon Schatzberger (Steven), Eden Watson (Daughter #2) & Logan Wong (Muk Si San)

Two incompetent brothers kidnap a mobster's daughter and hold her for ransom in a remote cottage, unaware a local psychopath lives close by...

The unexpected follow-up to Paul Andrew Williams' gritty debut London To Brighton, horror-comedy The Cottage would ordinarily appear first on a fledgling filmmaker's resume...

A pet project of the Portsmouth-born director, it stars comedian Reece Shearsmith (usually obscured by make-up playing nutters in League Of Gentlemen) and Andy Serkis (usually obscured by CGI playing creatures in Peter Jackson movies), as backbiting brothers Peter and David. Lad's mag favourite Jennifer Ellison plays Tracey, a foulmouthed mobster's daughter who's kidnapped by the incompetent brothers and held for ransom...

What begins as a low-budget comedy focused on its titular locale, soon veers off into Texas Chain Saw Massacre territory, as the kidnapper/kidnapped dynamic shifts and characters find themselves separated and stumbling into a psycho farmer's private land. Local country bumpkin stereotypes are taken to the nth degree, as "The Farmer" (Dave Legeno) -- resembling a creature from a cut-price zombie movie -- arrives for a second-half full of gore, violence and general craziness.

The shift into clichéd sub-Chain Saw is a shame, particularly as the more interesting elements of The Cottage are found in its sibling chemistry (Serkis and Shearmith could have been the Laurel & Hardy of horror with a better script) and the mob boss background to events (sadly not developed, and forgotten about once things turn schlocky). Actually, there's a final scene that attempts to tie-up both halves of The Cottage after the credits -- but, really, unless you know it's there and have the DVD, who would stay 'till after the credits?

Andy Serkis is the standout, clearly relishing doing something left-field and home-grown -- the kind of film his Lord Of The Rings director would have been making in the 80s. He's the irascible straight man, but holds the comedy and drama together very well in the first-half, before the film chooses to focus more on dimwit Peter's predicament...

As Peter, Reece Shearsmith basically trots out his League Of Gentlemen tics and aggrieved bitterness, tending to make Peter a bit too unlikeable and aggravating. It's a fun performance that sometimes hits the right mark, and contains plenty of crackerjack energy, but it's slightly too exaggerated and cartoon-y. That said, the character slots into the bizarre second-half much better.

Jennifer Ellison makes a very strong impression at first -- glaring from behind a gag, which we soon learn prevented obscenities that will make her Brookside fans cover their ears. Tracey's a beautiful bundle of bosomy bad attitude, but the character doesn't develop or grow from this two-dimension, and eventually sputters out into nothing. And is it just me, or is Ellison looking a bit bloated and craggy these days? The product of uncomplimentary lighting? Complimentary airbrushing in the magazines? Or maybe it's the fact her "latest" photoshoots were taken 5 years ago -- keeping her eternally youthful for the readers of Nuts and Zoo?

As an attempt to inject some Shaun Of The Dead-style knockabout humour into a mishmash of Evil Dead and Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Cottage isn't very successful. It just doesn't attack anything particularly well, or transcend its inspirations. The humour is more attuned to Severance's dry tone, and while the gore is successfully achieved, there's nothing imaginative or refreshing about it. It's all been done in countless knock-offs before this.

Overall, The Cottage is a misogynist horror-comedy that isn't particularly successful at either. Serkis is very good and Shearsmith has his moments, but everything else is by-the-numbers gross-outs stuck to a script that throws away its first-half promise (what happened to those creepy locals, led by Hellraiser's Doug Bradley?) to regurgitate another inbred maniac stalks hapless strangers scenario. Disappointing.

Budget: £2.5 million
92 minutes