Sony // 2008 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // April 25th, 2008
Sleeps Six Bloody Comfortably.
Peter (Reece Shearsmith, Shaun of the Dead) and David (Andy Serkis, Topsy-Turvy) are mismatched brothers who do something incredibly stupid: kidnap the step-daughter of David's underworld-connected boss and demand a large ransom. More stupidly, they enlist the help of Andrew (Steve O'Donnell, A Knight's Tale), the boss' dimwitted son. Of course, the boss is onto this from the word "go" and sends a pair of Asian assassins to follow Andrew as he delivers the ransom to the brothers at their late mothers' rural home.
Things go south almost immediately. The hostage -- the incredibly sexy, foul-mouthed, and headstrong Jennifer Ellison -- breaks Peter's nose and learns David's name when Peter slips up and refers to him by it. Andrew delivers the ransom, and it turns out to be not what it seemed. And the assassins anxiously await word from the boss so they can go in and filet the fools.
First, however, the assassins need to deal with another matter, a guy they've got tied up in the backseat. The more bloodthirsty-seeming one pulls him out of the car, drags him into the woods, and then --
Well, and then the movie changes course altogether.
The Cottage starts out as a low-key comedy crime caper. Most of the first 20 or minutes consist of Peter and David bickering -- about the crime (which has already been committed, with Ellison in the trunk of their car, chloroformed), about the house, about Peter's wife (she's obese, and he's afraid of her) and, of course, about the past. David seems bright enough, but he looks like a thickly built, dense thug. Peter is a milquetoast, smaller, softer, less competent (at everything, we suspect), and a riot of neuroses (particularly where moths are concerned). Shearsmith and Serkis play them perfectly -- this portion of the film could be co-opted as a stand-alone one-act play. We never for a second doubt that these men, whose appearances and mannerisms are nothing alike, are brothers. Their banter is funny and well-written, and it tells us everything we need to know to enjoy their interactions.
Things remain funny when the thick-skulled and lumbering Andrew arrives on the scene, and the appearance of the assassins adds a nice dollop of suspense.
Then everyone (in groups of two) heads to the woods and to an isolated farmhouse, which is occupied by a terribly disfigured farmer who uses pickaxes, shovels, and the like to express his displeasure with the intruders, and the whole thing suddenly becomes a slasher movie. Instead of playing this off as a joke, however, The Cottage approaches it with squeamish seriousness.
After a few minor characters are dispatched (off-screen) with a kind of comical sadism, we're left with our four main players. Now, even though these people are not particularly likeable or heroic, we have gotten to know them enough that we can empathize with them. Even Ellison's potty-talking sex bomb has some humanity about her.
Thus, it's disturbing, rather than entertaining, when the farmer starts picking off this quartet. The deaths, while not especially imaginative, are quite graphic -- disgustingly so, in some cases -- and unlike most slasher films, these folks don't die easy. One character gets his foot cut in half with a shovel. In the standard slasher, this would mean a few seconds of pained realization ("My foot! My foot's gone!") followed up with a coup de grace -- perhaps a beheading with that same shovel. Here, the character survives and spends the rest of the film hobbling about and in pain, with a large makeup effect at the end of his pants leg.
There's just something not funny about watching someone in what we would imagine to be genuine and intense pain.
The same thing happens with the other three characters. They either meet demises that are too gruesome to be funny, or they are so grievously injured that it's uncomfortable watching them. As for the deranged farmer, he has a back story that's kinda sad and tragic and removes him from the realm of Mindless Movie Monster without elevating him to anything else. Writer/Director Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton) tries to inject some humor into these unpleasant late-game proceedings, but the time for chuckles has long passed.
What we end up with is not a funny take on gore films or a scary approach to comedy but a film whose sensibilities are split right down the middle. Wit and ultraviolence never inhabit the same frame.
On a technical level, Sony gives us a good looking and sounding disc. I was grateful for the subtitles during a segment in which a character walks around trying to talk through a broken jaw. (This was part of the comedy portion of the film.) Extras aren't much -- deleted scenes, outtakes, a couple of storyboards -- but the disc does come with a bonus digital copy that can be downloaded to your computer or PSP.
I'm guessing that Williams was trying to take a page out of the far more successful Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright genre-mixing playbook that gave us the superior Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Unfortunately, like the spate of devil movies that came after The Exorcist or the low-rent gangster movies that turned up in the wake of The Godfather, The Cottage seems merely an inferior imitation attempting to rip off better original work.
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Storyboard Gallery
* Digital Copy