Review: The Cottage [2008]

Dir. Paul Andrew Williams

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Andy Serkis, Jennifer Ellison. Steve O'Donnell

Peter (Shearsmith) and David (Serkis) are discordant brothers who do something implausibly cretinous: kidnap the step-daughter of David's underworld-connected boss and demand a sizable ransom. More foolishly, they enlist the support of Andrew (O'Donnell), the boss' dimwitted son. Of course, the boss is onto this from the outset and dispatches a brace of Asian assassins to tail Andrew as he conveys the ransom to the brothers at their late mothers' rustic cottage.

As you may imagine things start to unravel almost immediately. The hostage - the preposterously concupiscent, foul-mouthed, and tenacious Jennifer Ellison - physically assaults Peter and soon discovers David's name from the inexperienced kidnappers. Andrew delivers the ransom, and it turns out to be not what it seemed. Meanwhile the Asian assassins fervently await word from the boss so they can go in and execute the assignment. First, however, the assassins need to dispense with another factor, a gent they've got bound up in the backseat. The more barbaric of the duo yanks the intended victim out of the vehicle, hauls him into the woods, and then...

Well, then the movie changes course altogether...

As you can tell The Cottage originates as a low-key comedy crime caper, with the majority of the initial 20 minutes or so consisting solely of a glorious verbal duet between Peter and David as they bicker about the crime, about the house, about Peter's wife and, naturally about the past. Shearsmith and Serkis play their roles impeccably - this integral section of the film could easily be extracted and broadcast as a stand-alone one-act TV comedy/drama. We never, for a second, question the fact that these men, whose appearances and traits are noticablt dissimilar, are siblings. Their banter is instinctual, facetious and well-written, and it summarizes everything we need to discern about their pasts, their contemporaneous dispositions and their long term relationship, all captured beautifully on camera by Williams.

Things remain light-hearted as the imbecilic and lumbering Andrew blunders onto the scene, and the manifestation of the Korean assassins garnishes a nice modicum of exotic pantomime to the proceedings. Then en masse the cast head into the woods and discover an isolated farmhouse, which is inhabited by a heinously deformed farmer who utilizes pickaxes, shovels and other farmyard implements to assert his disapproval of the intruders, and the whole thing unexpectedly dovetails into a slasher movie. Instead of presenting this as a continuation of the joke, however, The Cottage thankfully approaches it with an inexorable seriousness, which sorely lacking in the majority of mainstream Hollywood attempts at genre self-mockery.

After a few minor characters are done away with (off-screen), we're left with our four pivotal players, whom  the farmer begins picking off, one by one. The fatalities, while not peculiarly inventive, are graphic and contrary to most slasher films, these victims refuse to die easily. One character gets his foot cut in half with a shovel and the character survives and spends the rest of the film tottering about in consummate agony.

What we end up with is a bifurcated assault, preliminarily enticing you in with humour until your sensibilities are relaxed sufficiently enough to be hit with an all out onslaught of barbarity and horror. Much like Shearsmith's earlier work in the groundbreaking BBC's League of Gentlemen, this diminutive movie will catch you off guard. So much so you may find yourself questioning whether your laughter is actually a result of the onscreen humour or because you are a teeny-weeny bit disquieted...

Verdict: See this if you like quirky British comedy or horror

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