Cottage, The (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie takes a trip to the country for blood, swearing and other silliness...
With debts to pay off and personal issues to resolve, brothers David (Andy Serkis) and Peter (Reece Shearsmith) arrive at a cottage in the countryside. Their companion is the bound and gagged Tracey, a gangster's daughter, who they are holding for ransom. However, when Tracey wakes up it's clear that she's not going to go along with their plan. In addition to their angry hostage, the brothers also have to worry about the owner of the nearby farm, who has his own way of dealing with trespassers.
The Cottage is director Paul Andrew Williams' follow-up to his 2006 film London to Brighton. The change in tone is different, with latter's dark, gritty realism a stark contrast to The Cottage, which is almost a spoof movie. At the heart of the story is the relationship between the brothers. Their bickering and occasional slapstick exploits immediately made me think of Laurel and Hardy and the film is constructed in such a way that we get Laurel and Hardy Go Kidnapping for most of the movie, followed by Laurel and Hardy in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the final thirty minutes.
It's definitely a film of two halves, with a structure that feels a little bit like From Dusk Till Dawn. Most of the running time is spent on the bungled kidnapping, and it's only in the final act that we're introduced to the Leatherface-style bad guy. The results are suitably gory in a charming Bad Taste kind of way but I felt that while the earlier scenes allowed for inventive moments and some good dialogue, it turns into a parody of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The closing moments are clever and while there's not exactly a twist in the tale, most viewers will see the end shot coming a mile off.
The two central performances carry the movie, especially when some of the jokes fail to hit the mark, and it's good to see Andy Serkis in a central role with decent screen time that doesn't involve CG motion capture. Not being a Brookside fan, I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've seen Jennifer Ellison in anything, but I suspect that the role of Tracey isn't significantly stretching her acting abilities. If you want an angry blonde scouser, she seems like the right person to call on. Be warned–an incredible amount of swearing comes out of her mouth, including some creative uses of expletive nouns as verbs. You'll know what I mean when you hear it.
Its quite easy to draw comparisons between The Cottage and recent British comedy horror fare like Severance. Comedy and horror are two genres that don't tend to mix well together but here it just about works. There are some laugh-out-loud moments but there are also some cheap gags and the blood doesn't start flowing until it's too late. There's even a gag lifted straight out of Severance so if you're in the mood for some British horror comedy, I'd go for that movie before The Cottage. That's not to say it's a bad movie–it's an enjoyable movie from start to finish–but given the genres, it's not difficult to find horror movies that are scarier or comedy movies that are funnier.
The Cottage is presented with a 2.35:1 anamorphic picture and given that the film is set over the course of one night, you won't be surprised to discover that the picture is pretty dark for most of the running time. Unfortunately the picture quality doesn't quite live up to the requirements and there are some problems. The picture is quite a bit lighter than it needs to be, with black looking so much like grey that you'll be reaching for the brightness controls on your TV remote. The darkest scenes also suffer from a lack of detail, in particular during the wide shots in the woods, where the blue lighting seems to blur the details in the background.
This DVD comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but there is also an audio description option if you dig deep enough in the extras menu. The score plays an important role in setting the tone of the movie and as we go through the opening credits, it's easy to imagine how the tone could have been closer to that of London to Brighton if the music wasn't so light-hearted. The quality of the audio is generally better than the unimpressive picture, with clear dialogue and music along with the all-important squelch effects when we get to the gory scenes. The only issue I did notice was that in a couple of scenes there appeared to be a sync problem. It's not a major problem and only occurred on a few lines of dialogue so there's a decent chance you might not even notice it.
Paul Andrew Williams supplies a very honest commentary track, where he points out where the final version of the movie matches the storyboards, but he's just as keen to talk about the things that didn't quite work. He's frank about everything to do with the production and it's refreshing to hear from a filmmaker who is well aware of his limitations without resorting to moaning about the low budget. He also provides an optional commentary for the deleted scenes in 'What Got Chopped?'. Again, he discusses the problems with the scenes that generally would have slowed down the pace of the movie and seems to enjoy itching about an alternative opening scene that he particularly dislikes.
At fifteen minutes long, the ‘Making of’ featurette is relatively short but still manages to take in many aspects of the production. We see the actors on the night shoots, which made up most of the production and meant they had to work from 7pm to 7am every day. We also get to see Laura Rossi composing and conducting the original music and the director's obvious respect for the work she is doing. There are then a few minutes' worth of outtakes, showing the cast screwing up their lines, messing around on set and failing to get props to work. A photo gallery shows behind the scenes shots of the production but it's pretty short and is less than a minute long. In addition, we get a trailer for The Cottage and, harking back to the first DVDs you bought when the shiny discs came out ten years ago, pages and pages of text under the title of 'Cast and Crew Biographies'.
The Cottage is worth a watch for fans of British horror and the central performances carry a movie that doesn't have too much to offer in the way of originality. The video quality isn't up to the standard we expect to find on DVD nowadays and while there appears to be a good selection of extras if the list on the case is to be believed, there isn't much meat on the bones. With the dodgy picture and text-based extras, this release feels a bit like a DVD from 1998, not 2008.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 14th July 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Director's Commentary, The Making Of The Cottage, What Got Chopped, Outtakes, Cast and Crew Biographies, Production Photo Gallery, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Cast: Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Jennifer Ellison
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 87 minutes
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