The Cottage

Director    Paul Andrew Williams
Starring    Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Jennifer Ellison, Steve O
Release    N/A (US) March 14th (UK)    Certificate 18
4 stars


16th January 2008

Paul Andrew Williams is only two films into his career, and already it's impossible to predict what he'll do next. His debut movie, London To Brighton, was by all accounts a harrowing and distressing drama, two hours of relentless misery in the company of pimps, whores and frightened little girls. His second movie, The Cottage, is about as far removed from his first effort as possible - a horror comedy that plays things strictly for laughs. Trying to second-guess his next feature would be like trying to predicting the British weather - although in both cases, 'grim' would be probably be pretty close to the mark.

The cottage of the title is the countryside hideout of two bungling kidnappers; David (Serkis), both the brains and brawn of the operation, and Peter (Shearsmith), his wet blanket brother. Tied and gagged in the trunk outside is Tracey (lads' favourite Ellison), a spunky youngster with a rich and worried daddy back home. Things go tits-up pretty quickly when Tracey's scheming step-brother Andrew (Steve O'Donnell, best known as Bottom's portly Spudgun) turns up and sours the whole shebang, leading to a merry chase through the nearby woods - a jaunt destined to end in a bloodbath for some or all of those involved. Why? Because deep in the woods is another house, home to Leatherface's ugly cousin and his trusty pickaxe. Oh dear.

Comparisons with Shaun Of The Dead are inevitable - although you feel any British horror comedy will be subject to the same snap judgement - but The Cottage is really the spiritual descendant of Raimi's Evil Dead: tongue is rammed firmly in cheek while metal is being rammed firmly in flesh. Laughs take first priority here, and the subsequent lashings of gore only add to the humour: every sliced limb and broken bone only serves to ramp up the excitement. The Cottage is definitely a slow starter, but really kicks into a higher gear in the last reel, piling on the injuries without relying on explicit gorno money shots. The low budget is occasionally made obvious (like soft porn, you rarely see anything 'go in') and a few genre clichés rear their ugly head towards the end (LOUD NOISES!) but more often than not, The Cottage straddles the horror/comedy axis with gymnastic ease. It's always smart enough to be stupid enough.

That's due in the most part to Reece Shearsmith. He's basically throwing in a bit of all of his League Of Gentlemen personas into the mix - a dollop of wimp, lashings of pomposity and a generous slosh of whine - but he makes for a great voodoo doll for Williams to torture. Suffering a broken nose, a dislocated jaw and one hell of a foot injury, the more hurt he gets, the funnier he is. Serkis, meanwhile, is lumped with a rather joyless straight man role, although he does occasionally break into a Gollum-like snarl, which makes you remember just how menacing he can be. However, the surprise package here is Ellison, the former TV star turned bra model and occasional film star. Dressed in cutesy pyjamas and looking like butter wouldn't melt, she delivers an endless torrent of unspeakable profanity with such gusto, it's hard not to be a little impressed. Jen wins this week's award for Loudest C-Word by a country mile, but then you'd expect nothing less from a Scouser.

The Cottage is a film that knows how to play to its strengths, namely making the most of its modest budget and not even attempting to break the B-movie glass ceiling. There's plenty of old-school prosthetics and home-made entrails, a back-to-basics villain (with a minimum of back story) and an emphasis on character that's a rarity for the genre, not to mention some fine turns from a couple of underrated actors. It's a film unlikely to travel especially well, and it certainly won't have the impact of, say, The Descent, but as far as British horror goes in the here and now, it's definitely one of the better efforts of late. More importantly, it's another success for Williams - film number three is now eagerly awaited.

More:  Horror  Comedy  Violence
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