[Review] - Cottage Country

Courtesy of Whizbang Films

Comedy is hard, but black comedy is damned near impossible. The list of examples that manage to full it off to maximum effect is a short one indeed. Finding the balance between the grisly and the funny is a narrow margin, and most films usually find their refuge in cranking the darker aspects to an extreme. Make the violence or morbidity or extremism so over the top that the audience can't feel disgusted or bad about it, and will therefore laugh. Cottage Country, from director Peter Wellington and producer Paul Gross, never goes that far. Or, more accurately, it never commits to going that far. It touches on it occasionally, but then scoots back and tries to play nice. The end result being an occasionally very funny, but entirely inconsistent film that shows it's potential more than it aspires to it.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that didn't mean to hit him with the axe.

Tyler Labine has carved out a nice career, in both film and TV, as "the friend," usually obnoxious, drunk and free-spirited (see Reaper, Mad Love, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, Best Man Down, etc). It's only recently that he's begun to make the transition into leading roles, such as Cottage Country, or the far superior Dale and Tucker vs. Evil. It's a smart move, as these lead roles tend to be against his established type, and give Labine to show off his skill as a comedic actor as something other than a degenerate. And all credit to him, Labine's performance throughout Cottage Country is solid. He holds the film together at it's murkiest times with a believably exasperated and increasingly unstable character.

Malin Akerman, a one time Hollywood it-girl, took a while to find her niche, appearing as best friends in chick flicks, ex girlfriends in bromances, and even a superhero in Watchmen. It wasn't until she ended up on Children's Hospital, and now on ABC's Trophy Wife, that she's really fallen into a groove as a straight man in comedy. And she fills that role here too, as the coldly logical, determined and insistent Cammie, girlfriend of Labine's emotionally fragile Todd. And again, her performance is reliably strong, and provides excellent chemistry and contradiction to Labine.

Todd is a weak willed, easily manipulated office drone whose life has only one bright spot: Cammie. Cammie is a managerial, controlling sort who discovers that Todd intends to propose to her over the course of their impending vacation, and becomes determined that the entire event will happen perfectly. Enter Todd's brother Salinger (Dan Petronijevic) and his vaguely Eastern European girlfriend, Masha (Lucy Punch), who ruin the romantic getaway with their hippie, consequence-free lifestyle. Confrontations are had, and the anxieties of Todd's life become too much, leading him to accidental kill his brother.  And there the troubles begin. From this point on, the film becomes a progression of increasingly complicated lies and additional murders while Todd and Cammie try to cover their tracks, Cammie doing the manipulating, and Tood wielding the axe.

It's a solid premise, and for two thirds of the film, it's a solid execution. The comedy hangs nicely in balance with the violence, though the distance between the first and second murder is largely laughless. The number of bodies is kept low enough that it never stretches the suspension of disbelief, while skill amounting to serious problems for the couple. It's in the final third of the film where everything starts to fall apart, and I don't mean for the characters. Once the police begin to investigate, and once Todd's parent's (Kenneth Welsh and Nancy Beatty) join the couple in their getaway, the whole thing loses focus. And the suspension of disbelief completely evaporates (the third murder is the most impulsive, and the most easily detectable).

The film fractures under an increasing number of under elaborated sub plots, none of which are properly explained or investigated. Throughout the first two thirds of the film, it is very evident that while Cammie is controlling and Todd is a push over, but they are never presented as anything but happy with one another. Cammie just seems like someone who is very excited about getting engaged, and Todd is very loyal and caring. Suddenly though, with the introduction of Todd's parents, the revelation is made that neither of the couple really likes each other, and have simply settled. While such a change in attitude might have made sense if presented progressively as being a symptom of the guilt and stress of all the killing, for whatever reason it is clearly and suddenly stated that neither party liked each other from the beginning, which is just isn't true from the beginning.

There is also a brief flirtation with the guilt overcoming Todd, as he begins to hallucinate his victims in their various stages of decay. This examination of his increasingly unstable mental state would have been interesting, but it doesn't lead anywhere. The occurances are too brief and each time he shakes it off and is able to go about his business. The viewer can see quiet clearly a thread where Todd's increasingly unstable behaviour forces Cammie into desperate self preservation, but it never comes. Instead, there is a final climatic event that comes largely out of nowhere, and really serves no other purpose but to bring the film to an abrupt, but not overly logical, conclusion. In all, the final act feels like an entirely different movie, introducing new characters and problems that are only tenuously connected to what had come before. A subplot regarding a crazy mountain man goes so absolutely nowhere, that the question must be asked as to why it was included at all.

When the film is funny, it is very funny. Todd's killing of Sal is probably one of the funniest murder sequences I've seen, in part because of the patience that the writer and director have with letting the scene unfold, incorporating the entire conflict-killing-reaction sequence into one very long, very successful piece of comedy. And Labine absolutely nails the most important bit, the realising what's he's done and taking steps to fix it. The following murders too are well constructed, the bodies well hidden and lies well maintained, with a Hitchcockian level of detail. If it weren't for the story falling apart, you could see how, with Cammie's guidance, the pair could have gotten away with it. It's just a shame that the film doesn't seem to know how to follow through with such a good set up.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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