The least – although some may reckon most – you can say for The Cottage is that it doesn’t catch Paul Andrew Williams leaning on his laurels. The writer/director has chased his sensational Brit-grit debut London To Brighton with an unlikely u-turn made possible by the earlier film’s BAFTA-bothering success. In on-off development for five years, The Cottage sees the black humour that flecked the edges of L2B hustled centre-stage and hosed with claret.
Comedy and horror are two of the fiddliest buggers to blend on the genre palette. Raimi did it standing on his head in the Evil Dead trilogy; Chris Smith made the grade in 2006’s Severance, a film that, unluckily, pipped some of The Cottage’s schtick to the post. Here, Williams seems to be running down a cul-de-sac with the set-up. Two sibling rivals – snarling David (Andy Serkis) and snivelling Peter (Reece Shearsmith) – pull up at a country hideaway, their boot stuffed with crimeboss-daughter-cum-ransom-bait Tracey (tabloid fave Jennifer Ellison, turning the air so blue you could fish in it). Much bickering, bumbling and fortune-reversals follow, no one noticing that comic smarts and narrative thrust have snuck out the backdoor.
Happily, a shift of the goalposts helps The Cottage to score, finding pace and purpose as a slasher-farce. True, the malformed machete maniac is no vintage boogeyman – iffy prosthetics only good enough to win third place in a Leatherface lookalike contest – but his cartoon carnage reaps laughter in the dark. Williams rings a few changes on old standbys: trapdoors, through-the-keyhole jitters, big rusty implements – the latter used in ways that’ll make you wince, no matter how many Saws you’ve seen.
Regrettably cueing the end credits with a punchline that’d shame a student short, The Cottage has the feel of an eager debut rather than an assured follow-up, lacking the novelty and nuance to match its brashness. But it does confirm Williams as a real filmmaker of flair and genre-jumping ambition.
If you loved L2B's social-realist integrity, you'll be bemused by Williams' 180-degree turn into Guignol and gut-busting. A labour of love that's sometimes plain laboured, but a stronger, splattery second half will curry favour with gorehounds.