Chloe (Kristen Dalton) and Michael Carpenter (Victor Browne), a struggling suburban couple, have no idea what they’re in for when they rent out the cottage behind their house to a quiet, charming romance novelist named Robert Mars (David Arquette).
It appears that Mr. Mars was looking for much more than a place to rent. Chloe begins to suspect he’s not who he says he is and she soon realizes that she’s in the fight of her life to protect herself and her family.
Before I start talking about the actual film, I feel it necessary to quickly mention something which immediately struck me as a “D’oh!” moment – not a good first impression really. This is because there was a British comedy/horror film released in 2008 called ‘The Cottage’, meaning that when researching online about the 2012 movie of the same name, there was a whole lot of unnecessary confusion. I know I can’t expect filmmaker’s to be aware of every film ever made when titling theirs, but Google ‘The Cottage’ and the results speaks for itself – directed by Paul Andrew Williams, starring Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Steve O’Donnell and Jennifer Ellison. This sort of thing does happen occasionally (think of 2006’s The Dead Girl and 2008’s Deadgirl) so I suppose I shouldn’t get too riled up. I just felt that this was an important, yet unfortunate, point to make before I began, but because I don’t judge a book by its cover, I shall now continue unperturbed.
Anyway, The Cottage sets the scene with Chloe, a stay at home mum, and Michael Carpenter, a composer, needing to rent out this cottage behind their house due to financial problems. After the girl who’d initially agreed to rent it was involved in a mysterious car accident, they desperately try to find a replacement, ending up settling with Robert Mars (played by David Arquette), a somewhat awkward and mystifying romance novelist – or so he claims. Things seem fine at first, but Robert’s behaviour turns into something that the family are not altogether comfortable with, especially as people around them begin to disappear one person at a time. The Cottage explores the rocky dynamics of the family itself, with moody teenagers and step-mum related issues, along with the more sinister aspect of their new neighbour overstepping boundaries.
One of the things that I liked about The Cottage is the fact that it had the ability to scare whilst being shot mostly in broad daylight, and this is always the sign of an impressive and well made horror. A few of the scenes with David Arquette at first glance appear quite regular, but then the eerie music starts to creep in and before you know where you are, things are incredibly tense, with lingering camera shots for extra emphasis. The music really was crucial in setting that great atmosphere, that and David Arquette’s astounding ability to play awkward, yet somehow likable characters. At The Cottage’s Los Angeles premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, David Arquette described the film as ‘more of a thriller’, saying ‘ It’s a real great story. I really loved the director and the cast. I just wanted to play a villain. The character is kind of dark. It’s fun playing characters like that because you start off kind of liking them. You can’t really see it coming and then they turn in this really creepy way’. The Cottage has actually been described by some as the creepiest Arquette film since Ravenous, but I shall leave that to you to decide.
If I was to try and compare The Cottage to other horror films, I would probably bring up Single White Female/The Roommate first of all, for obvious reasons. Whilst Robert is not actually living in the house with the rest of the family, he is still a little too close for comfort, and his actions are definitely creepy enough to warrant suspicion. I would also mention a film called Fear, with a young Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon, which tells the story of a new boyfriend who becomes wildly inappropriate with his behaviour. Ok, so this similarity may seem a bit of a stretch, but I felt like the main male characters in both of them shared that same manipulative, uncomfortable quality which is fundamentally sinister. The plot of The Cottage does sound like it has potential, but, to be honest, I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been, which is disappointing. That’s not to fault the actors at all, but more the basic storyline – and if you haven’t got a decent story to work with, you’re off to a bad start already.
What I personally felt was frustrating about this film was the lack of actual information provided for the audience. Now, I’m not one of these viewers who want everything to be spoon-fed to them, but when watching a movie there is an unwritten contract that the director should answer the questions that need to be answered. Having watched the entire film, I still don’t understand what Robert’s motivations were for what he was doing. He seemed to kill people for no reason, and I feel like that is lazy story-telling. Most people kill people for a reason, regardless of how ludicrous it is. I know it was implied that he was rather unstable, but even unstable people have a certain twisted thought process that goes into the things they do. Also, what were the motivations of his ‘wives’? What did they even get out of this relationship? I’m telling you now, don’t expect an answer to these questions because one is not revealed.
This almost ‘cult-like’ element that featured did manage to unsettle me, especially seeing how easy it was for the teenage girl to get sucked into the madness. When thinking back to things like the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones and the horrific massacre that took place there, a film like this can’t help but cause unease. The Cottage is not really a violent movie, not until the last ten minutes or so, but it is always shocking to see someone killing in such a callous, nonchalant manner. Don’t get me wrong, just little blood is used, but the emotionlessness (if that’s even a word!) of it is what really gets you. The killing’s themselves are not that exciting to watch (I know that sounds really sick, but you know what I mean!), with the victims kind of slumping down silently. I suppose this isn’t really a negative point as such, just a surprising one, given that it’s allegedly a ‘scary’ movie. More psychologically scary, really.
An early piece of promotional artwork for the film was released earlier this year and there was something very ‘Hitchcockian’ about it – a very simplistic red and orange illustration of hands tied together. I thought this was an interesting choice and perfectly suited the film, in hindsight, the brightness of it especially. I can also imagine Hitchcock himself doing a movie with a similar storyline to this one, as he was renowned for his thrillers. I’d like to think that good old Hitchcock would tie up the loose ends though and not leave the unsightly loose bits that director Chris Jaymes did.
All in all, The Cottage had an interesting concept and did make for a gripping watch, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel that it really hit the mark. Events seem to happen at random with no explanation why, but if you’re willing to suspend your rational thinking mind for an hour and a half, then you’ll find this an enjoyable viewing experience. The acting is good all round, David Arquette in particular, but it was simply the story itself which should have been improved. It’s worth checking out once, at least, but far cry from a classic.
The Cottage (2012)