The Cottage (2008) – By Duane L. Martin

 I’m not exactly sure why this is, but for some reason, mainstream American horror seems to, with a few exceptions, have taken a nose dive in the last several years, while Britain and even New Zealand seem to be consistently doing it right.  Such is the case with The Cottage, which is yet another entry to the genre from the UK.

In this film, we have two completely dissimilar brothers, David (Andy Serkis) and Peter (Reece Shearsmith), who became co-owners of their mother’s house after her death.  One is an innocent, nerdy accountant type who lives there with his behemoth of a wife and desperately wants to buy out his brother’s share of the house, but doesn’t have the money.  The other is more of a shady type of a guy who dreams of buying a boat and sailing the world, but he also doesn’t have the money, and won’t give up his share of the house until he can get his boat.  To that end, they come up with a cunning plan to get the money – a kidnapping.

They kidnap the unbelievably bitchy daughter of a local mob type, played awesomely Jennifer Ellison, who is absolutely smokin’ hot by the way and reminds me a lot of Emma Bunton for some reason, and take her out to this old abandoned country cottage where they plan to hold her until they can have the ransom delivered by her step brother (Steven O’Donnell) who’s really just a big, incompetent doofus, but was in on the plan nonetheless.  Unfortunately they have two problems.  First, the girl is one of those girls that makes you wonder who’s runnin’ hell while she’s up here, and second…there’s an insane killer living on the farm next door who likes to collect heads and leave other assorted body parts laying, or hanging around in varous places.  Their troubles really arise when problem #1 escapes, cold cocks her doofus step brother and then kidnaps the accountant type brother and leads him at knife point through the woods in an attempt to escape.  That’s when they run into problem #2…the insane killer, when they enter his farm house looking for a phone so she can call her mobster father.  Things pretty much go downhill for everyone from there.

I reviewed an American horror film called Hatchet a short while back, and for some reason I can’t help but draw a comparison between the two.  For some reason, they both have a similar feel for me, but where Hatchet failed in story, characterization, horror, and just all around general fun, this movie excelled.  A perfect example of a recent American failure and yet another UK success.  I think a big part of it seems to be that people in the UK and New Zealand, where many of these awesomely fun films have been coming from, really understand the art of dark comedy.  Another prime example of a recent New Zealand entry would be the film Black Sheep, a film about genetically altered zombie sheep, which was extremely fun while same time maintaining a great horror / monster element to it.  But I digress…

The horror elements of this movie were great, but what really made this film awesome for me were the characters.  Jennifer Ellison was simply amazing as the bitch from Hell kidnap victim, and she was largely responsible for the massive amount of fun into this film.  I was saddened to see her character killed off about half to two-thirds of the way through though, because it really would have added a lot to the film if she had survived to the end.  Still, the way the maniac killed her was really awesome, and was just one of many fun, and dare I even say somewhat shocking, "Oh crap!" moments in the film.

The chemistry between the characters in the film really makes you pull for them to make it through in the end.  That’s another contrast with a film like Hatchet, or even Jeepers Creepers 2, where you’re actually pulling for the characters, but in a different way.  You’re pulling for them to die in the most horrible ways possible because you can’t stand any of them.  There was just something personable and fun about the characters in this film that you could connect to, which says a lot about the actors that were chosen for the roles and their ability to connect with their characters and really understand the relationships between them.

The horror elements of this film were sometimes comical, yet also gruesome and fun.  The effects staff deserve a round of applause for some fine make-up and effects work.  The set designers also did a fantastic job with both the cottage where the kidnappers were staying, and most especially, the farm where the killer lived.  The whole look of this film was really well done, and accentuated by some fine camera work as well.  One thing I especially liked is that they didn’t bury the horror moments in total darkness so you couldn’t see anything that was going on.  I really hate when films do that, but fortunately this one didn’t, and all the horror, while taking place at night or in dark places, was still perfectly viewable in all its splendor.

I guess I only really have two complaints about this film.  My first complaint is more of a personal one.  I would have liked to have seen the girl survive longer because she was such a bitchy, fun character, and I would have liked to have seen at least one brother survive at the end.  Sadly, everyone dies by the end of the film.  This is a trend I’ve been noticing in horror films lately.  Many films have been killing off all of their characters, whereas the trend used to be to leave one or two of the main characters alive at the end of the movie.  Fortunately, this hasn’t become a completely common thing, so it still leaves you wondering from film to film if the characters will survive.  If it ever does becomes overly common rather than a random thing, I think horror films will lose much of their sense of suspense, and become far less enjoyable since you know everyone will likely end up dead.  It doesn’t leave you with any of that questioning suspense that makes horror movies fun.

My second complaint is that I would have liked to have seen the killer’s back story explained a little better, and seen him featured more in the film.  As the film plays out, he almost feels like he’s a secondary character to everything that’s going on between the rest of the cast.  It’s like, you have all this stuff and all these relationships going on, and then you get a killer thrown into the mix.  I don’t know if other people felt this way, but there was something about the killer that made him feel more like an intruder in the plot rather than someone who was integrated into the storyline.  I think the lack of back story (even though it is explained to a degree), really hurt the character and made him feel more like a random intrusion than anything else.  There was a prime opportunity to get into his back story during this great scene in the town when the shadier brother goes in to make a phone call and encounters a really bizarre and hilarious group of locals, but sadly, it didn’t happen.

The Cottage is an awesome film that should have been treated better by Sony.  It doesn’t even have it’s own website!  The disc could have had some great behind the scenes featurettes on the effects and what not, yet all we get are some lame deleted scenes and outtakes.  When you look at the amount of crap released to the theaters every year, you have to wonder who’s making the decisions on what to push and what not to.  Obviously, whoever made the decision not to push this one made a huge mistake.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, tough.  There isn’t a website, though you can look it up on IMDB.  However, it is available from all the normal outlets and I’m sure you can get it from Netflix or Blockbuster as well, so definitely check it out.  It’s dark and funny and definitely worth your time.