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The Cottage Tries for that From Dusk Till Dawn Magic


The Cottage (Screen Gems, 2008)
Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams

The Cottage, in the end, was a rather frustrating experience for the Doc. For the first half of the film, The Cottage sets itself up as a very engaging British crime caper/comedy in the tradition of dare I say it…the Coen Brothers. However, as anyone who has already seen the previews or read anything about it knows, the second half of the film is an entirely different animal that doesn’t work quite as well. It’s an experimental piece of celluloid that while I can applaud it for the attempt, that doesn’t make it any less of a misguided beast to behold.

The film opens up with two brothers, David (Andy Serkis) and Peter (Reece Shearsmith), pulling up to a quaint little cottage (Go Figure!) in a backwoods village somewhere in England. We soon learn in a wonderfully staged sequence that they have kidnapped the daughter, Tracey (Jennifer Ellison), of a big time crime boss, and are keeping her hostage here while they wait to receive their big reward.

The plan is so simple it seems perfect. David and Peter have involved Tracey’s stepbrother, Andrew (Steve O’Donnell) in on their proceedings. They will call Tracey’s father, and have Andrew bring them the money where they will split it and be on their merry ways.

As most crime bosses prove to be, this one is no stupider than most, and already suspects Andrew’s involvement. So, when Andrew shows up with a bag of tissue paper and a couple of Korean gangsters (Jonathan Chan Pensley and Logan Wong) on his tail, the brothers are forced to come up with some other way to get their much needed riches.

After Peter drops their only means of communication, a cell phone, into a pond, David is forced to go into town to find a pay phone to call some people to come up with a new plan. Here he runs into some strange locals who stare at him with crazy eyes and tell him to go back to his cottage and lock the doors and stay inside until morning.

Meanwhile, Tracey is proving to be more elusive than Peter and Andrew seem to be. She tricks them into untying her and then proceeds to kick the crap out of her stepbrother and turn the kidnapping tables by taking Peter with her to go find help and a phone to contact her dad.

Up to this point, the film has been very witty and involving. It’s by no means up to the level of Fargo or The Long Good Friday, but it’s a finely tuned dark comedy in its own right. Little bits like Peter’s fear of calling his wife and David’s encounter with the local townsfolk are played out very well and are quite amusing. The very well endowed Ellison is also pitch perfect as the unruly victim. And before I get “Women’s Rights” protests on my description of Ellison, if you look up her career on the internet, you will quickly learn that she was voted “Best Tits in the World” by Nuts magazine in 2004. So, if an award was behest to her, I feel it is my duty to respect that.

After this, the film’s vibe gets a bit of a shake-up and your opinion of it could change drastically. If you really want to experience this film for yourself before reading further, then check it out and come back and read the rest. However, if you watch any preview or read anything else about it, I am not giving anything away that hasn’t been talked about already, so continue at your own risk.

After Tracey and Peter venture off to find a phone, they come upon a darkly lit farm that has “Stay The Fuck Away” written all over it. In fact there are a few signs that they come up on that say essentially that, but of course the stubborn Tracey pays them no mind.

Upon venturing into the farmhouse they find a very succinct odor, a trap door in the kitchen, and human feet in the freezer. And before you can say “What the Fuck,” a giant, mutated hillbilly (With a bit of a British flair) arises from the trap door and now the movie has gone from straight up crime caper to 80’s slasher film in a matter of minutes.

So, for the remainder of the film, this new force (Credited as The Farmer and played by Dave Legeno) has come onto the scene and our rag tag bunch of characters have a new situation to deal with, and succumbing to the torture from a crime boss might actually be a little more enticing.

This is where the film lost me a little bit. The characters, I will say, don’t stray a bit from their previous endowments, and are just as fun as they were at the beginning of the movie. But The Farmer is such an uninspired creation, and the slasher-esque scenes are as generic as they come, so to say the movie loses a bit of steam is putting it nicely.

The director, Paul Andrew Williams, is a true craftsman. The film looks wonderful, and he can stage action as well as just about anyone. His first film, London to Brighton, has not made its way to Region 1 DVD yet, but when it does I am curious to check it out. Pull it up on IMDB; it has the most interesting plot synopsis I think I’ve ever read. Williams is obviously experimenting here in the same vein as movies like From Dusk Till Dawn and Hostel have in the past. However, much like those films, the second half just doesn’t hold a candle to the intriguing set-up of the first half.

In fact, the only film with this kind of split personality disorder that I can think of that works is Psycho. And in a day of no internet and very little pre-media hype, I can only imagine how cool that must have been in 1960 to be sitting through what you thought was yet another crime drama with Janet Leigh traveling across the country with stolen money, and then to be shocked all to hell when the Bates Motel comes into the picture.

However, even if I didn’t know where this film was going to go, I’m not really sure I would’ve been any more wishy-washy than I am now with it. It’s just such a left-field diversion that the movie doesn’t even earn the right to produce.

There is some pretty cool intrigue early on leading up to the second half. When the brothers and Andrew learn that the Korean duo is there to stop them, they end up finding one of them tied up to two trees with his throat cut open. This is a killing that we don’t actually see happen (Although there is a deleted scene on the DVD that I’m glad they left out which displays it in all its glory), so you’re wondering along with our characters, what the hell did that.

Still, the Koreans are yet another reason why I’m so torn by this film. Say that the Brits know comedy and drama better than we do all you want. However, we both apparently love our Asian stereotypes. The duo’s dialogue consists of lovely diatribe like “I cut you up, real good.” As if our relations with Asia weren’t bad enough.

In the end, I find it hard not to recommend the film because it is interesting, faults included. The acting is brilliant across the board; Serkis (Gollum from Lord of the Rings and King Kong from King Kong) proves that he doesn’t have to be hiding behind a CG creation to deliver the goods. It remains very funny even after the horror aspect is brought into the picture, and there are even a couple of pretty fun, bloody f/x sequences.

And while I’m usually in awe of characters being offed that I wasn’t expecting, I found it a little annoying that they killed off arguably the most interesting one as quickly as they did. But kudos for keeping me guessing on who would live and die. I will also state that in its context, “Oh, you have to be fucking kidding me” might be the best piece of movie dialogue to come out of 2008.

The Cottage was a fairly successful hit in its native land, and was bought up and released straight to DVD here. This is kind of sad considering it could have been a nice small word of mouth hit a la Shaun of the Dead; although it is nowhere near as good as that film. Still, I recommend the rental to see what you think of it. Even in its failures, it’s a million times more interesting than Speed Racer, so it has that going for it.


Sam Loomis

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