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THE COTTAGE, 2008
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  MOVIE THE COTTAGE, 2008
Movie Reviews

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Starring: Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Logan Wong, Jennifer Ellison

Review by Jane Hopkins
SYNOPSIS:

“In a remote part of the countryside, a bungled kidnapping turns into a living nightmare for four central characters when they cross paths with a psychopathic farmer and all hell breaks loose.”

REVIEW:

Horror comedies are not everyone’s cup of tea. They’re not always mine, actually. I’m drawn to horror and I love to laugh, so based on that, this should be the perfect subgenre for me. Well, the problem is that this particular subgenre tends to be so mean-spirited, even more so than straight horror. I take all the pain and death so seriously that rather than laughing at the over-the-top demises we get with these movies, I’m left feeling pretty miserable.

As you might guess from that intro, I feel “The Cottage” avoids the pitfalls that typically turn me off to horror comedies. It feels better thought-out than other films of its kind, beginning as a standard kidnapping caper before taking a hard left turn into slasher territory.

Brothers David and Peter, who obviously have some bad blood between them, team up with a gangster’s son to hold his sister for ransom. They plan to hole up in an isolated cottage until the plan comes off. Everything seems to go swimmingly at first, but before long, their foulmouthed victim turns the tables on them. But an even more fearsome adversary lurks in the darkness, sharpening his cleaver…

Writer-director Paul Anderson Williams gives us an interestingly British take on the “hillbilly cannibal” horror conventions. We’ve got the hulking, disfigured killer with a penchant for keeping body parts in his fridge. On the other hand, Peter meekly offers the kidnapped girl a cup of tea, even apologizing when she complains that he forgot the sugar. It’s this balance that gives “The Cottage” its distinctive tone.

While the dialogue is very strong, the biggest reason for the movie’s success is the casting. As the hapless brothers, Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith are perfectly mismatched. Serkis, rocking a leather jacket and a withering glare, plays David as an embittered man trying to claw his way out of a life of crime. He’s undertaken this whole kidnapping scheme so he can spend the rest of his life drifting on a boat. The fact that this is all a last-ditch attempt to get his life on track makes the character unexpectedly sympathetic. As henpecked Peter, Shearsmith displays the talent for conveying both humour and sincere emotion that served him so well in “The League of Gentlemen” and “Psychoville.” Peter is one of those characters who constantly finds himself on the receiving end of some abuse or indignity, but he gets the chance to show a little spirit as his situation grows more and more desperate. He also sports a shriek to rival that of any scream queen.

As victim-turned-victimizer Tracy, Jennifer Ellison is suitably fierce and outrageous. Hitting out at her kidnappers with fists and the occasional c-bomb, Ellison is a refreshing departure from horror heroine clichés. She looks the part of the typical dumb blonde, but this girl was brought up in a world of crooks and hitmen, so she’s not about to take any nonsense. I won’t say she’s an especially likeable character, but it’s just nice to see a girl in a horror movie who can stand up for herself. Her brother, played by Steven O’Donnell, is lamentably stupid, but in such a way that you kind of feel sorry for him. He seems like one of those people who’s always been led astray by sharper, more conniving minds. Dave Legano is imposing as the murderous “Farmer,” recalling the likes of Jason and Leatherface while still coming across as an original character. In a terrifically funny moment, he and Peter share a silent acknowledgement of their mutual irritation with Tracy. Fans of the “Hellraiser” series should also keep an eye out for a cameo by Doug Bradley, who still manages to be menacing even without dozens of pins protruding from his skull.

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Gore-hounds won’t be disappointed. The special effects and makeup teams do a bang-up job of emulating the gruesome, violent slashers of the eighties, giving us plenty of grisly sights indeed. As I mentioned, this is not one of my favourite aspects of horror comedies, but the difference here is that I don’t think we’re meant to laugh at all this death and mutilation. When a character is harmed, it’s played pretty straight, even if we weren’t supposed to like them much when they were alive. Although this film is meant to be funny as well as disturbing, the filmmakers haven’t forgotten to make sure that we care about the characters. The later scenes between David and Peter are particularly touching, and it’s that kind of approach that really elevates “The Cottage.”

If you’re a fan of horror comedies in general, you’ll probably get a kick out of this one. If that kind of movie typically isn’t your thing, you still might enjoy it. See it for the chemistry between Serkis and Shearsmith, the stereotype-defying performance by Ellison, or if you’ve ever wondered what British comedy would look like crossed with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” It’s a surprisingly potent mix.

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THE COTTAGE, 2008