Strangers don’t fare well in these parts
I am a big fan of British cinema, being British myself it is only natural, but for me British cinema beats any other in the world for pure originality, great film making and actually making me want to watch films again. In the future I will be reviewing several other British horrors, such as Creep and possibly Severance, although I think the latter is too well known.
Anyway, I digress.
The Cottage is one of my favourite British films of the last 10 years and one of the most original horror films that I have ever seen, probably because it’s not really presented like a horror. Infact, I’m not even entirely convinced if you can class it as horror or a dark comedy, because it fits into both equally
David (Serkis) wants to escape a life of crime and decides that the best way to do this is to get his brother, Peter (Shearsmith), to kidnap the daughter (Ellison) or David’s boss and hold her to ransom. The only problem with the plan is that David and Peter have completely different personalities and David only manages to convince Peter to help via blackmail.
As the evening progresses David struggles to maintain order due becoming increasingly frustrated with his brother’s behaviour, that his prisoner is actually more dangerous than either of them, that his boss knows it’s him that kidnapped his daughter and is sending people to “sort him out” and various other things.
It soon becomes apparent that David will not only do well to get out of the situation with any money, but also get out alive as the evening continues taking a more sinister turn.
So what sets it apart from other horror films?
Well as I mention in the top part of this review, this has many elements of a horror film but is actually presented as a dark comedy. The reason I say that is that the film isn’t presented as a horror until much later on in the film and only truly in the last ten or so minutes does it fully transition from dark comedy into horror.
The relationship between David and Peter dominates the story and it never feels overplayed or indeed underdeveloped. It is done perfectly and you genuinely believe that although they care for each other, they could easily break into a fight throughout and the way the relationship develops throughout the film feels natural as it is a situation that would prove stressful if you were involved, especially towards the end of the film when they meet the main antagonist.
Infact, the introduction of the antagonist introduces an interesting dynamic to the film as it doesn’t start really coming into the story until at least two-thirds of the way through and after developing the main characters, in one way they have are taken in another direction and you access other parts of their personalities that you rarely see in other horror, which I think sets this apart from other films with a horror element.
Horror is a genre that has become far too predictable in recent years and have far too many cliches, this film has none of them, and even at the end the main antagonist is unpredictable. Unlike most horror films, the characters are developed correctly and you actually begin to care what happens to them, rather than just being presented with 6 or 7 teenage characters (invariably played by 30 year olds) who die before you’ve even learned their names. Each character is excellently written.
The best horror films are the ones where you actually care about the characters, such as the Jeff Goldblum remake of “The Fly”, the 1982 classic “The Thing” and various other films of a similar nature. If you’re going to make a good horror film then you really need to have decent characters, and “The Fly” proved that you didn’t need need a large cast of characters because if they are written well and, more importantly, well acted, which leads me neatly onto the excellent performances from the cast.
Serkis is absolutely fantastic as David and you really start to feel his frustration as the evening goes on due to being surrounded by the incompetence of others. One such example is when a third conspirator turns up and was supposed to buy ski-masks so that they can do the ransom anonymously, only for him to turn up with masks that reveal the entirety of the face, effectively nullifying the point of getting one. David ultimately phones his former boss and the resignation in his voice when he knows that he won’t get away with what he has done was done with such subtlety that you appreciate the effort that Serkis has put in.
In a filmography that includes excellent motion capture work on Lord of the Rings, King King and the reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, his performance in The Cottage is arguably my favourite performance of his as it shows almost perfectly how to make an antagonistic character seem very likable. For me this film actually made me respect Serkis a lot more (not that I disrespected him before) as he showed that he isn’t a one trick pony and can pull of roles where you actually see his face on screen.
Shearsmith is also excellent as Peter, a character with a far more varied range of experiences and emotions throughout the film, whether it be raging at this brother to being under-the-thumb when his wife phones him. I have not seen any of his other work before or since this film so I can only go off of his performance in The Cottage, and it was a genuinely enjoyable portrayal of a man whom is treading the line of staying sane on a regular basis.
The very fact that the character is terrified by moths means that Shearsmith would have to produce a feeling of dread in the several scenes where he is trapped with them, and the way that Shearsmtih plays it makes you think that he has a genuine fear of them, although it does feel a tiny bit slapstick. Below is one such scene.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Jennifer Ellison, even dating back to the days when she was in Brookside, however, she was remarkably believable as a gangster’s daughter. There is a genuine menace to her ability to scare Peter, even when she is completely tied up. Maybe it’s the scouse (a dialect from the area of Liverpool for those who don’t live in the UK) accent, or the threatening tone in her voice as she gives evil eyes to the main characters, but either way she does a very respectable job of making you believe
With excellent characters and development through it’s run time, it’s hard not to enjoy this film, especially when it starts transitioning between the genres, and whilst it will never be considered a classic in the genre, it certainly has elements that made the classics successful.
I must say it’s pretty much the only trailer I have ever seen for a film where it is clips from pretty much exclusively the final third of the film and it doesn’t reflect the nature of the first two thirds, which is strange.