Stealing from every horror movie you have ever seen, and probably some you haven’t because they looked too crap, The Cottage hits our TV screens with the kind of hype that surrounds any British film that can be even remotely compared to Shaun of the Dead.
It has far more in common with 2006’s Severance, itself an over-rated and disappointing foray into mixing humour with gore. The problem here is that for the average, non-psychopathic man on the street, gore is not particularly funny. Yes, there might be moments when something hits the correct combination of buttons (I’ll admit that for me it tends to involve severed limbs in inappropriate places), but very often it should actually induce either wincing, vomiting or disgust.
The Cottage suffers in this way. It starts off reasonably well, with a beautifully-constructed opening title sequence that convinces you this is going to be out-and-out comedy. The appearance of Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith as feuding brothers promises much and Serkis’s facial expressions are almost worth the price of admission on its own. Their plot to kidnap a rich mob boss’s daughter and demand a large ransom is doomed by incompetence from the very beginning, and Peter (Shearsmith) and Andrew (Steve O’Donnell) are idiotic enough to almost send Serkis to an early nicotine-induced grave.
The daughter, Tracey, turns out to be more than any of them bargained for and rather good at headbutting people. I get the impression that this was supposed to have amusement value, but Jennifer Ellison plays it so well that anything she does just comes across as unpleasant. I can imagine sniggers coming from sections from the audience, but others will think along my lines and see it as too brutal to be funny.
The film changes from a botched-up kidnapping flick to a slasher when they discover that there is a deformed serial killer nearby who will give them far more to worry about than Tracey’s father. This is where it starts to go down the wrong route. Instead of following Shaun of the Dead and using slapstick and obvious gags, we get proper gore that belongs more in something like Hostel or Ed Gein. The killer’s house, which naturally half the characters find the need to poke around in, is full of body parts, mutilated photographs and mouldy plates (no serial killer ever does the washing-up), and the guy himself isn’t looking too healthy either. The deaths – and no-one survives in this film – are extremely nasty, with Ellison’s being so revolting that I am unlikely to ever get the slightly tingly sensation out of my jaw. There will no doubt be people out there who laugh out loud at this moment – I wasn’t one of them.
Eventually the killer prevails and everyone meets their maker, including one character you thought was well out of it (watch to the end of the credits). By then you’ll either be cheering him on, be willing the characters to escape, or be distinctly unmoved by the whole thing. It was number three for me, with an added sadness that I didn’t care. There were moments where I really thought I would relate to someone and start praying for them, but then the gore and the silliness came back in and that was that.
I’ve got a tip for the writers of films like this. ‘Black humour’ does not mean ‘poorly-executed humour surrounded by gore’. Nor does it mean ‘people being very obviously decapitated and then giving monster close-ups of the bits that got cut off’ or ‘Using the F- and C-words absolutely all the time’.
The extras are quite nice and the DVD menu itself is great – just don’t play it while your mother is in the room. There are lots of deleted scenes – a fair few of which should arguably have been in the film – and profiles of the main players, a director’s commentary which is reasonable and a making-of which doesn’t really add a lot to the proceedings.
With more attention to the potentially hilarious (the two Chinese blokes, the crazy villagers and the complete ineptitude of the protagonists), this could have been good. As it stands, it’s average and unoriginal.