The Cottage first published by Film4
“We’re gonna go to hell for this.”
This is the opening line in Paul Andrew Williams‘ The Cottage, but even as he utters it, mild-mannered, lepidophobic Peter (Reece Shearsmith) really has little inkling of the trouble that is in store for him and his more rough-edged brother David (Andy Serkis). Sure, they have just snatched Tracey (Jennifer Ellison) and brought her, bound and gagged, to an isolated cottage hideout until the ransom money turns up, but even in his wildest neurotic fantasies, Peter could never imagine the sheer amount of verbal and physical abuse he is going to endure from their recalcitrant abductee. He does not know that their inside man on the job, Tracey’s idiot stepbrother Andrew (Steven O’Donnell), has been tailed by two of her father’s blade-wielding henchmen (Logan Wong, Jonathan Chan-Presley) who are just waiting out in the dark for the right moment to perform some creative slice-and-dice on the bungling kidnappers. Peter does not even realise that the countryside is positively teeming with those dreaded moths. He is, after all, a family man, not really cut out for this kind of work. Level-headed David has a better idea of how bad things can get – but as the two bickering brothers end up at a farm on the other side of the woods, even David does not see what is coming next.
It is a pattern well-established by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and reinforced by, for example, Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Alex Turner’s Dead Birds (2004) and Stevan Mena’s Malevolence (2004), that fugitive criminals who hole up in the country tend to get far more than they bargain for in terms of genre – so it comes as no real surprise when the heist-gone-wrong shenanigans that characterise the first half of The Cottage soon give way to something altogether more unhinged. Sure enough, Williams’ story twists and turns much like the darkened by-road seen in the film’s opening sequence, veering from Coens caper to Hooper horror – but the one thing that remains a unifying constant throughout, apart from the recurrent motif of family dysfunction, is the film’s wicked streak of humour. For if the principal characters are put through absurd amounts of pain, viewers too will be laughing till their sides hurt.
Smart dialogue, excellent character acting, impressive prosthetic effects, and Laura Rossi’s perfect Elfman-esque score, all make their contribution to the pleasure of watching The Cottage, but in the end it is Williams’ deft handling and assured intermixing of different genre elements that are the film’s real coup. Here the essentially American modes of heist-gone-wrong and backwoods barbarity are married both to each other and to a very British comic sensibility, so that no matter whether David, Peter and Andrew are facing fluttering moths, a potty-mouthed prisoner, or things unimaginably worse, their daft incompetence and bumbling banality ensure that the film remains a hilariously sickening joy from start to finish.
The last line of The Cottage, “Oh, you must be joking”, might as well be directed at Williams himself – but it is the kind of joke that will leave everyone smiling.
Strap: In Paul Andrew Williams’ painful, gory horror comedy, kidnap caper meets backwoods massacre in a bloody confusion of motives and genres
© Anton Bitel