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Let’s all take a moment to praise Andy Serkis, shall we? While many film-goers will know Serkis as the man behind the mo-cap suit for such blockbusters as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films (Gollum), his King Kong adaptation (the big fella, himself) and the Planet of the Apes remakes (Caesar), Serkis is actually a well-established British actor with a 25-year career that encompasses everything from television to dramas and biopics to more explicitly genre fare. He’s an incredibly gifted performer who manages to bring an impish sense of mischief to each of his roles, whether he’s portraying Blockheads frontman Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010) or infamous grave-robber William Hare in Burke and Hare (2010).

Similar to larger-than-life personalities like Ron Perlman and Bruce Campbell, Serkis is the kind of actor that can enliven just about any production: in the right film, he’s pretty much unstoppable. Luckily for us, writer-director Paul Andrew Williams’ The Cottage (2008) is the right film in every way possible: outrageously funny, uncompromising, suitably vicious when necessary and featuring an outstanding supporting cast, The Cottage is a nearly flawless thrill-ride that proves one thing above all: we need more Andy Serkis and we need more now!

Serkis stars as David who, along with his rather dim-witted brother, Peter (Reece Shearsmith), has just kidnapped Tracey (Jennifer Ellison) in order to hold her for ransom. In the best Ransom of Red Chief tradition, however, Tracey is a living nightmare: the foul-mouthed, perpetually sneering step-daughter of mobster Arnie, Tracey is more of a handful than either brother could have imagined, managing to clobber them psychologically (and physically) at every possible opportunity. In short order, we come to discover that Arnie’s son, Andrew (Steven O’Donnell), is in on the kidnapping with David and Peter, although he proves equally inept. The four hole up in an isolated cabin in the woods, as far from civilization as possible.

The situation manages to get even worse when it’s revealed that Arnie knows just where the bungling criminals are hiding and has dispatched a lethal pair of Asian hitmen (Logan Wong, Jonathan Chan-Pensley) to send them to the great here-after and recover his beloved step-daughter. When Tracey manages to get free, taking Peter hostage, it looks like the end of the road for our Keystone Kriminals. The pair end up at a mysterious neighboring farm, however, a residence that bears a suspicious resemblance to a Betty Crocker version of the Sawyer farmhouse in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): as any genre fan worth their salt knows, the party is just getting started. Soon, everyone will be locked in a desperate life-or-death struggle with a living monster that doesn’t take kindly to trespassers: who will survive and what will be left of them, indeed!

From time to time, a film will grab me by the lapels and shake the stuffing out of me, requiring my immediate and unwavering attention: The Cottage was one of those films. Truth be told, I was hopelessly head-over-heels for the film by the 20 minute mark, thanks to a brilliant script and some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in ages. The acting is impeccable, with Serkis and Shearsmith bringing the house down as the bickering brothers. For her part, Ellison is simply magnificent: fuck “mean girls”…Tracey is THE mean girl, hands down. Abrasive, cunning, wheedling, strong and take-charge, Tracey is the last thing you usually expect to see in a horror film: a strong female character. There is real joy to be found in the ways she mercilessly wears David and Peter down: to be honest, had the film just consisted of the kidnapping angle, minus the added slasher aspect, I would have been just as happy…the film is that good.

But then, of course, I would have been robbed of the supreme pleasure of the latter half of the film. Suffice to say that Paul Andrew Williams is just as adept with the pure horror elements as he is with the comedy elements: when the film takes off the gloves and squares up its shoulders, it’s one mean bastard, no two ways about it. Eviscerations, a shovel to the mouth, pick axes…The Cottage doesn’t skimp on the grue, although it never feels overly oppressive or dark, thanks to the always prevalent comedic elements.

Along with the brilliant script and acting, however, The Cottage looks and sounds like a million bucks. While Christopher Ross’ cinematography is exquisite, one of the film’s biggest weapons is Laura Rossi’s amazing score. Similar to Danny Elfman’s whimsical Beetlejuice (1988) score, Rossi’s work in The Cottage helps set a nearly fairytale-like tone that makes for a bracing, fascinating mash-up with the more intense elements. An Oscar nominee for her work in Unfinished Song (2012), Rossi is handily responsible for much of the film’s mood at any given time and the music here really stands out.

Truth be told, I’m hard-put to find anything really bad to say about The Cottage: gonzo energy, great performances, genuine humor, fully developed characters, a perfect ending, endlessly fun…there’s not really much more I could ask for, to be honest. By the time the film had finished, I was already ready to start it all over again: it really is that good. Even though Williams doesn’t dabble in horror very often (his only other horror entry, thus far, was the vicious home-invasion thriller Cherry Tree Lane (2010); he’s more known for dramas like London to Brighton (2006) or Unfinished Song), his results are so good that it really makes me wish he’d spend more time with the scary stuff. I’m not greedy, though: when you’ve got a filmmaker as talented as Williams and an actor as good as Serkis, you pretty much take whatever you’re given. In the case of The Cottage, we end up receiving one hell of a good film.

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