Talking Movies

May 1, 2018

From the Archives: The Cottage

A dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives reveals a gruesome little attempt at a black comedy with Andy Serkis still struggling to get good roles in his own physical right.

Andy Serkis’ starring role in The Cottage confirms his status as one of the most under-appreciated actors of our time. He’s been disguised by motion capture in The Lord of the Rings and King Kong and, apart from a hypnotic cameo as Moors Murderer Ian Brady in Channel 4’s award-winning Longford, his appearances in his own physical right have been restricted to truly terrible British films like Deathwatch. Well guess what? Playing a similar role to his gruff psycho in Deathwatch Serkis’ talent is once again wasted on a diabolical British script. This horror-comedy is literally a film of two halves. It starts off wanting to be a Joe Orton play, realises it has no jokes and then becomes an incredibly gruesome shlock-horror with no soul.

Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams made a big splash critically with his acclaimed thriller London to Brighton. His follow-up should, if patriotic reviewing for once takes a second place to honesty among the hacks of Fleet Street, be a career ender. I really did try to give this film every possible chance. It begins very much as a poor man’s Joe Orton scenario with two exhausted men, one a criminal (Serkis) and the other his mild-mannered brother (Reece Shearsmith), arriving with their hostage (Jennifer Ellison) at a decrepit cottage in rural England. Shearsmith’s hen-pecked character has agreed to help in this insane scheme of kidnapping the daughter of not just any crime boss but the crime boss Serkis character works for (!) in order to get his sibling to sign over half of their mother’s house to him. Lad’s mag favourite Jennifer Ellison has been cast apparently purely for the dimensions of her chest which is lovingly lingered over by the camera on more than one occasion. Her character is meant to be the foul-mouthed wise-cracking British equivalent of a Ripley or Buffy. The difference between that obvious intention and the awful reality of her performance is the scariest thing in the film.

Joe Orton’s pitch-black comedies like Loot usually included some jokes. There are no jokes in this film. It feels like having failed on that front Williams just threw his hands up in despair half way through and changed to a gross out horror film. Watching Reece Shearsmith have half his foot cut off by an expertly wielded shovel and then hobble through the rest of the film with an exceedingly bloody stump is just one of the most repulsive sights that cinema will offend with this year. There is nothing in this ‘horribly scarred farmer goes mad and becomes a cannibal preying on strangers in rural England’ set up that hasn’t been done and parodied a million times before. This is lazy, unfunny, sexist, grotesque rubbish and to be avoided if for no other reason than to save Williams from himself…

1/5

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July 2, 2010

Eclipse

David Slade, director of Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night, succeeds in returning some of Catherine Hardwicke’s viciousness to Eclipse but takes the romance tongue-in-cheek seriously…

The opening reinstates the nastiness that Hardwicke made so crucial in the first film by depicting a savage vampire attack that agonisingly turns new villain Riley. From there Slade alternates sappy romance with something that New Moon so badly lacked – a plot. The same plot broadly as the first film mind, killing spree heralds vampires heading towards Forks who target Bella, but a plot nonetheless. Slade gleefully ret-cons the vampires into ice-cold beings who shatter like glass when hit hard enough, which allows for decapitations aplenty with exploding heads and nary a drop of blood, and doesn’t make a lick of sense given that they mop up the red stuff, but why complain when it allows a lead vampire to very painfully lose an arm to a werewolf.

Slade also fleshes out the Cullens, giving Rosalie a chance to stop pouting and become a character by revealing her back-story. The real revelation though is Jackson Rathbone as Jasper who after doing a Harpo Marx impression for two films is finally given dialogue and, in revealing his Civil War past in Texas and his experience in training newborn vampires, turns out to be ridiculously charismatic. He’s matched by Xavier Samuel as Riley, who raises an army of insanely destructive newborn vampires that cause such mayhem in Seattle that sinister vampire overlords the Volturi dispatch Jane (Dakota Fanning) to kill them. Whisper it, but Fanning displays an un-nerving flair for sadistic villainy – far surpassing Bryce Dallas Howard’s underwhelming cameo as Bella’s vampire nemesis Victoria – with one moment in particular almost an exorcising of her past career.

Such almost fourth-wall breaches litter Eclipse as Slade is aware that these characters have taken on a life outside their fictional framework. When a hypothermic Bella needs to be warmed up and over-heated werewolf Jacob tells Edward “We both know I’m hotter than you”, you almost expect both actors to look directly at the audience and then return to the scene. Slade knows that teenage girls will wildly cheer Jacob’s first appearance and his first shirtless scene, especially Edward’s reaction by engaging in an epic make-out session with Bella. It is hard not to suppose that Slade and his writing associate Brian Nelson did a dialogue polish as there are tart put-downs at all these moments which make Taylor Lautner’s Jacob a more sardonic and charismatic presence here than in the previous film despite having less screen-time and also give Robert Pattinson something to play other than brooding. New Moon was unintentionally funny in its awfulness but Eclipse’s intentional comedy reaches exquisite heights in a scene when the always droll Billy Burke as Bella’s father tries to discuss accidental pregnancy with Bella while they both die of embarrassment.

Reviewing the performances of Pattinson and Lautner is of course redundant and it could be argued that the unashamed objectification of them is a positive development, but, this conflict between a dependable pretty boy and a moody pretty boy was done far better in seasons 2 and 3 of Gilmore Girls, which only highlights the enormous problem that is Bella Swan. Kristen Stewart’s original turn masked the fact that Bella is a bafflingly anaemic heroine, the super-massive black hole at the heart of the Twilight phenomenon, whose passivity, immaturity and self-pitying and self-destructive nature would drive Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, Scarlett O’Hara and Veronica Mars around the bend…

This surpasses New Moon but favourable comparisons to that are like saying fewer people died when the Lusitania sank than when the Titanic went down. Eclipse isn’t as good as Twilight but it’s a qualified success as a horror film spliced with a romance that needs to wink at the audience. But when a romance needs to wink at the audience it means that you’re liable to spend as much time anthropologically observing the audience’s fevered reaction to the movie as actually watching the movie.

3/5

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