The British already know that writer-director Paul Andrew Williams is one to watch. His feature film debut, “London to Brighton” (2006), saw him being nominated for a BAFTA, as the Carl Foreman Award for the Most Promising Newcomer. He may have lost out on that one to Andrea Arnold for “Red Road,” but he didn’t have to nurse his wounds. He had plenty of other nominations and wins to make him smile, including, in the latter category, the Edinburgh’s International Film Festival’s New Director’s Award, the Evening Standard British Film Awards’ Most Promising Newcomer, and the Raindance Film Festival’s Jury Prize for UK Feature. Since “London to Brighton” has yet to be released State-side, we have to experience Williams through his sophomore effort, “The Cottage,” a horror-comedy about a kidnapping gone horribly wrong.
In the film, David (Andy Serkis) convinces his brother Peter (Reece Shearsmith) to help him kidnap Tracey (Jennifer Ellison), the stepdaughter of a mobster. The men stand to gain 100,000 pounds, which would mean that Peter could buy David’s half of their deceased mother’s house; and David could buy a boat and leave everything behind. On paper, perhaps, this sounded like a good plan. In reality, it’s an utter disaster. Tracey knows David, so he’s prevented from putting his gruff voice to intimidatingly fine use. Instead, he must rely on the nebbish, hen-pecked Peter, who is, incidentally, petrified of moths. No shrinking violet, Tracey takes every opportunity to inflict pain on her captors – she breaks Peter’s nose with her hands tied behind her back – and to verbally assault their manhood.
And this isn’t even the worst of what happens. “The Cottage” is a living testament to Murphy’s Law; that anything that can go wrong, does. And this is where the film gets its humor – from the characters’ misery. About three-fourths of the way in, “The Cottage” takes an interesting detour into slasher territory, courtesy of a homicidal neighbor. Gorehounds should be elated as they will find some pretty cringe-inducing scenes of bodily mutilation by way of a trap, a shovel, machete, pick axe, and more.
Having never heard of Paul Andrew Williams or “The Cottage,” I assumed, judging by the DVD cover art and cast list, that the film might be B-grade horror at best. After all, Serkis isn’t known for his acting chops, at least not in the U.S.; he’s known as the voice behind Gollum and the body behind King Kong. Despite being in “Shaun of the Dead,” Shearsmith, too, is a relative unknown over here. Ellison might be recognized by fans of “Phantom of the Opera,” but I don’t know too many horror fans who watch musical theater. All three deliver noteworthy performances, especially Serkis and Shearsmith, who play off of each other beautifully. Good, too, are supporting players, including Steve O’Donnell, who plays Tracey’s idiotic brother; and the Asian hit men, played by Logan Wong and Jonathan Chan-Pensley. If only American horror – big and small budget – contained such acting talent!
It’s a shame that, outside of Europe, “The Cottage” wasn’t given a cinematic release but is going straight to DVD. This film is better than most of the horror opening in the cinemas. It’s funny, well acted, and sufficiently gory. And the ending is absolutely brilliant. By the way, don’t switch the film off once the credits begin to roll. There’s a great cameo at the end and a hint at a sequel. If enough people give “The Cottage” a chance, we might get to see Williams’ next film in the cinema.
Paul Andrew Williams (director) / Paul Andrew Williams (screenplay)
CAST: Doug Bradley … Old Man
Jennifer Ellison … Tracey
Steve O’Donnell … Andrew
Simon Schatzberger … Steven
Andy Serkis … David
Reece Shearsmith … Peter