The Cottage Review

The Hills Have Eyes comes to the English countryside when a mad farmer terrorizes two petty criminals with a barn full of deadly weapons.

Paul Andrew Williams impressed many last year with his gritty, realistic first feature, London To Brighton. It won awards and marked him out as a director to watch. Stylistically it was reminiscent of Ken Loach or even early Scorsese and big things were expected from his sophomore effort. So many will be surprised, if not a little disappointed, when confronted by The Cottage. A balls to the wall gross out horror film that comes on like a cross between The League Of Gentlemen and The Hills Have Eyes.

Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith play brothers who have kidnapped the daughter of a London nightclub owner, Jennifer Ellison, and are holding her hostage in a remote country cottage. Rather than the submissive wallflower they were hoping her to be, Ellison proves to be more than a handful, swearing like a trooper and attacking them at every opportunity. When the ransom money arrives they realise the tables have been turned on them and they go into panic mode which involves leaving the confines of the cottage and venturing into the local village. While wandering in the local countryside they stumble across the neighbour’s house and at this point the film does a dramatic u-turn. Up to this juncture the film plays out as a comedy of errors with bursts of violence, but nothing indicates just how gruesome the film is about to become.

The farmer is country bumpkin Leatherface who slaughters anyone passing through his land in remarkably inventive ways. A barn full of body parts and a shed full of farmyard implements doubling as murder weapons ensures that the second half of The Cottage isn’t for those with weak stomachs. Pitchforks, scythes, a pick axe and a shovel are put to inventive use to cut arteries, sever limbs and generally wreak bloody havoc on our bumbling heroes.

While the film is inventive and moves at a breakneck pace it’s not without some major flaws. The antagonistic relationship between the brothers is never really explained and yet we are supposed to care about them as they become closer towards the end of their bloody ordeal. Ellison’s character is remarkably one dimensional and almost impossible to sympathise with. She may have been kidnapped, but when we hear her unleash a torrent of four letter abuse at her captors it’s hard not want to shut her up for good. The tonal change half way through the film will be difficult for some to take. The violence really is the very definition of gross out and despite being played for laughs there were scenes that had even me hiding my eyes. Horror and comedy are notoriously difficult bedfellows on the big screen and where The Evil Dead and An American Werewolf In London got it spot on (and were obvious influences here) The Cottage falls at the last fence by trying to separate the two genres. Here the violence doesn’t grow organically from any of the situations, it just seems to have been added in to shock, and clinically separated from the comedy, so that the film ends up as, quite literally, a film of two halves.

All that being said there is a lot to like here. The comedy in the first half may not be gut bustingly funny but it raises enough smiles to keep us interested in the characters. The violence in the second half may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who like to see the blood flow there is enough to satiate the most bloodthirsty gore hound and the killings are inventive enough to not invoke a sense of déjà vu as the severed limbs fly.

It’s no surprise to learn that this was the film that Williams planned as his debut, but now he has got it out of his system lets hope he can carry on a career path that London To Brighton signposted. That’s not to say he shouldn’t try horror again, but it would be good to see him make one with the discipline that he showed in his first film.

Duncan Stripp

Updated: Mar 30, 2008

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