I've never been a big fan of horror, slapstick or any attempts at blending the two, so Paul Andrew Williams had his work cut out if he was going to convince me I'd been missing out all these years. The London to Brighton writer-director has returned to gangland for his second movie outing, replacing grimness with gore in The Cottage.
Following the fast-becoming-traditional path of Brit comedy-horrors like Shaun of the Dead and Severance, The Cottage focuses on two brothers' bungled attempt to kidnap the feisty daughter (Ellison) of an underworld kingpin. Andy Serkis (presumably revelling in the chance to walk on two feet after recent castings as Gollum and King Kong) plays David, the brains of the operation, and is paired through financial necessity with his hapless brother Peter — Reece Shearsmith of The League of Gentlemen fame. After making it to their hideaway cottage — obviously in the middle of nowhere — the trio are joined by Ellison’s outrageously camp and equalling bungling step-brother, who is also in on the plot. But when Ellison manages to make her escape with Peter in tow, the foursome soon discover the truth behind popular wisdom against going into the woods in the dark, when they bump into a psychotic disfigured farmer.
The Cottage was actually the first film that Williams never made, after several false-starts saw it deemed “too adventurous” for a first-time director. Now, with a critically-acclaimed film under his belt and £770,000 worth of lottery funding in his wallet, Andrews has succeeded in making what he hopes to be “an ironic, subtle pisstake on the whole genre”. For me, though, there's no subtlety in being given a Chelsea smile courtesy of a spade before being decapitated, and about as firm a grasp on irony as Alanis Morrissette demonstrated. The surprising winner from all this has to be Ellison. Despite having a script largely limited to "you fucking cunts" (delivered with a rumbling Scouse growl), Ellison proves she's far from just a pneumatic pair of tits on an unfeasibly toned body. The Cottage will no doubt achieve cult appeal, and when it does the former lads-mag Brookie fave should find a few more challenging scripts coming her way.
Putting my prejudices aside, even I can see The Cottage has a ready-made audience. But that says a lot more about the film-going public and the trend for so-called “ironic” films than the accomplishments of the film itself. As Waldorf said to Statler in the Muppets, after being rebuked for sleeping through the show: "Who's a fool? You watched it."