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The Cottage

Inept kidnappers and their hostage fall prey to a maniac in the lively if programmatic horror pic "The Cottage."

Cast:
With: Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Jennifer Ellison, Steven O'Donnell, Logan Wong, Jonathan Chan-Pensley, Simon Schatzberger, David Legeno.

Inept kidnappers and their hostage fall prey to a maniac in the lively if programmatic horror pic “The Cottage.” Compared to similarly blood-soaked Brit fare, this perfectly adequate, blackly comic low-budget gorefest plays better than, say, “Severance,” but not as well as “Shaun of the Dead.” The only real shock is that pic was written and helmed by Paul Andrew Williams, whose gritty realist debut, “London to Brighton,” reaped kudos aplenty and high critical praise, if little coin. “The Cottage” is sure to make more of a B.O. killing, especially on ancillary, after its wide domestic opening on March 14.

Story kicks off in farce-cum-thriller territory with two bickering brothers — small-time hood David (Andy Serkis, Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) and whiny wimp Peter (Reece Shearsmith, from cult British comedy series “The League of Gentlemen”) — staying at a rural cottage in the middle of the night with spitfire hostage Tracey (former soap star Jennifer Ellison) trussed up in the trunk of their car. Tracey is the stepdaughter of David’s boss Arnie; the brothers hope to get £100,000 in ransom money for her, to be delivered by Arnie’s gormless son Andrew (Steven O’Donnell), who’s in on the plot.

Unfortunately for the kidnappers, Tracey not only swears like a sailor but fights like a Marine. Matters worsen when Andrew turns up with a suitcase full of tissues instead of cash, and the only cell phone available gets dropped in a puddle.

Just when the comedy, a little stiff to start with, is beginning to build up a head of steam, pic veers into horror territory with the arrival of a hideously disfigured, psychopathic farmer (David Legeno, underneath a few pounds of prosthetic latex). Seemingly bent on harvesting the ensemble for spare body parts, the farmer goes to work, picking off characters one by one.

Debt owed to the likes of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and its many imitators is obvious, although “The Cottage” manages to steer its tone somewhere between spoof and serious shocker, constantly softening the murderous mayhem with gallows humor. The gore is not as grotesquely inventive nor (thankfully) as sickening as that seen in recent torture pics like the “Hostel” franchise, but there’s still enough blood, mangling and spilled guts to keep genre fans fairly happy, all done via old-school in-camera tricks, credited to special-effects supervisor Paul Hyett.

Helmer Williams and producer Ken Marshall admit in press notes that the script was written before “London to Brighton,” and “The Cottage” indeed feels more like a cautiously commercial debut than a sophomore follow-up to a lauded arthouse effort. But this show of range from Williams and Marshall may yet prove to be a very smart move, provided the pic doesn’t entirely alienate the auds expecting another “London to Brighton.” Even so, if they look really closely, they might see some faint but significant similarities between the two films: an interest in the demi-monde, violence, feisty women.

Thesping is a little too broad, especially from Ellison, but helming is fluent and tech credits just fine.

The Cottage

U.K.

Production: A Pathe Intl. release of a Steel Mill production, in association with U.K. Film Council, with the support of Screen Yorkshire Production Fund, the Isle of Man. (International sales: Pathe, London.) Produced by Ken Marshall, Martin Pope. Executive producer, Steve Christian. Directed, written by Paul Andrew Williams.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Christopher Ross; editor, Tom Hemmings; music, Laura Rossi; production designer, Crispian Sallis; art director, Josephine Newberry; costume designer, Marianne Agertoft; sound (Dolby Digital), Mitch Low; special effects supervisor, Paul Hyett. Reviewed at Odeon Norwich, March 14, 2008. Running time: 92 MIN.

With: With: Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Jennifer Ellison, Steven O'Donnell, Logan Wong, Jonathan Chan-Pensley, Simon Schatzberger, David Legeno.

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