Usually it is fairly easy to categorize most good films. They fit into either main genres or sub genres that have niche but clearly defined audiences. It gets harder when a movie has the potential to be in one genre but doesn’t do enough to earn it and it has already gone too far away from other genres, which in turn puts it in no man’s land between audiences. This is exactly where “The Cottage” resides, on a half rocky/ half marshy piece of land without much of a market.
The non spoilerific summary goes like this: Michael and Chloe Carpenter (Victor Browne and Kristen Dalton) are in need of a tenant to rent out there large cottage that is on the same property as their house. Michael’s wife died several years ago and he has a set of twin girls (Morrisa and Alana O’Mara) from that marriage. One of the twins doesn’t particularly care for her new step mom and looks borderline sociopathic with her blank stares. Chloe is out of work after having a baby and they need the extra money from renting out the cottage. They meet Robert Mars (David Arquette) and believe him to be charming enough to lease the cottage to him so he can work on his romance novels. That’s about as far as I can take the plot before things get bizarre and some twists and turns start piling up. Let’s just say Robert’s weird side begins to come out and he begins to make the Carpenters very uneasy.
“The Cottage” is not clearly defined. It has a premise that has potential to go into hard R territory and to go over the top a la “The Last House on the Left” remake. Now there are several moments of harsh violence but there is almost no blood or any gruesome effects. It is all mostly implied or obscured by objects. Being R rated the violence isn’t anything that wouldn’t appear in a PG-13 movie. There are a handful of F bombs (mostly in one scene) but that is about it. It’s like if “Cape Fear” was directed by Tim Hill.
There are far too many plot holes and characters performing actions that are not realistic just to keep the movie filled with false intensity. The biggest issue is that there is no civil conversation between the Carpenters and Robert asking him to leave after things have gotten weird. Michael and Chloe have a private conversation and immediately start talking about getting their lawyer involved without even confronting him first. At this point things are a little uncomfortable but not outright litigious. It’s a major omission on behalf of the writers/director to not have an initial confrontation scene. It is rife with opportunity to introduce a clear line in the sand and set up a war.
Another would-be tasty morsel of possible tension is the Carpenter’s money situation. They hint that they need a tenant because they need more money since Chloe is out of work; however it is never mentioned again and never used as a point of contention. A couple of simple lines of dialogue or plot tweaks could’ve upped the tension level with an addition like that. There are some initial interesting tidbits with the early scenes involving Robert’s private life but there is still too little information given. It feels abrupt and does not have enough shock and awe to be intriguing. Another gripe happens in the final act of the film. Michael is extremely fed up with Robert but is allowing him to stay in the cottage one last night and leave in the morning. At this point they know he is weird and unpredictable, but why doesn’t Michael call up some of his buddies and have them stay the night with his family for some extra muscle as a just-in-case factor? I guess he felt it was smarter to just walk around the house in the middle of the night with all the lights off.
Finally, the acting is fairly middling. It’s not terrible but everyone is so monotone and wooden. Chloe, the main character who needs to be able to have a wide range of depth can’t keep up with what is asked of her. Why does Chloe, when finding out that someone in her family is missing, show the concern level of someone who forgot to get eggs while at the store? I will say Arquette’s performance is the best aspect of the production. His naturally eccentric mannerisms help add a tinge of randomness to his eerie character. Most of his creepiness happens while having normal conversations with people. It’s almost if his character can’t lie, even while having ulterior motives. He’ll be having a normal talk with someone and then he will say or do something that steps over the line, but then he’ll apologize for it ever so nicely and then come right back with something else that is creepy.
“The Cottage” looks fairly decent on DVD. The standard def image is framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Much of the movie takes place under the bright California sky which creates some pop for the colors, especially with the Carpenters bright yellow house. That’s about the best part though. There are many instances of banding, aliasing and some crushing blacks in the nighttime scenes.
There is a standard 5.1 Dolby track and a 2.0 track as well. In most cases the soundtrack is fine. However I found myself having on more than a couple of occasions needing to increase the volume to hear the dialogue. The volume seemed to fluctuate quite a bit throughout.
There is only a trailer for the film
Ho Hum. Not hardcore enough to be a guilty exploitive pleasure and not wholesome enough for the Lifetime Movie Network crowd. “The Cottage” resides in the messy middle that most people find hard to be wholly entertained by. The standard definition disc looks okay but the audio is too inconsistent. “The Cottage” is only recommended for fans of Arquette, occult-like movies and people who like to look at nice looking houses.