Dir: Paul Andrew Williams. UK . 2008. 92 mins.
London To Brighton (2006) was one of the most admired British debut features in recent years, with writer/director Paul Andrew Williams being widely hailed as the next great hope of British filmmaking. How fortunate that The Cottage wasn't his first feature. A blithely chaotic retro horror comedy, The Cottage struggles to find a consistent tone or strike a balance between the paucity of giggles and the abundance of gore. Casually-plotted and half-hearted in its execution, it allows leading characters, key developments and comic potential to repeatedly escape its grasp.
Cast to appeal to a British audience, the familiar television names and the promise of outrageous excess should be enough to attract an initial following on its home territory. The 18 certificate will slightly restrict the laddish adolescents who would appear to be the film's target audience. Internationally, The Cottage is more likely to thrive as a marginal Midnight Madness-style cult item rather than a mainstream proposition.
London To Brighton took its inspiration from the gritty social realism of Ken Loach and urban thrillerssuch asGet Carter. The Cottage has a distinctive 1970s vibe that is part Carry On comedy and part Hammer horror. The maniac who eventually emerges to terrorise our hapless heroes has the look of a misguided experiment from Peter Cushing's laboratory and the casting of men's mag favourite Jennifer Ellison is another throwback to the era of Caroline Munro and Linda Hayden.
Andy Serkis gives the film's best performance as low life criminal David. He has enlisted the services of his henpecked, milquetoast brother Peter (Shearsmith) in a foolish scheme to kidnap gangster's daughter Tracey (Ellison) and demand a ransom of £100,000. They arrive at a country cottage hideaway unprepared for Tracey's ferocious nature, the Korean killers on their trail or the psychotic murderer lurking in a nearby farmhouse.
Written before London To Brighton and designed to be made on a modest budget, The Cottage initially relies on the bitter banter between the chalk-and-cheese brothers to sustain the narrative momentum. An exasperated Serkis and a prissy Shearsmith display good comic chemistry and Laura Rossi's manic musical score helps convince us this will all be a bit of a lark.
Once the other plot elements come crowding in the film starts to lose its grip, however. The Korean killers make little impact, the attempt to depict the clannish eccentricity of the local residents is abandoned and there is a good deal of treading water before the story finally gains some momentum and a hideous maniac is set loose. The subsequent succession of bloodspattered mutilations, severed limbs and high-pitched screams finally delivers what genre fans will have been anticipating.
Shearsmith secures a measure of sympathy for his wimpy loser Peter but Ellison brings little variation to her unrelentingly shrill, spectacularly stroppy, foul-mouthed wildcat. Even at a trim ninety minutes, The Cottage begins to overstay its welcome. It's certainly no Shaun Of The Dead.
Steel Mill Pictures
Magic Light Pictures
UK Film Council
Isle Of Man
0207 323 5151
Paul Andrew Wiliams
Director of photography