Review by James A. Janisse
The Cottage is a film that preys upon our fears of home invasion, of letting someone into our lives and having that person violate us and our family. David Arquette plays Robert, a quiet romance novelist who moves into the guest house (cottage? I guess) behind the Carpenter family’s house. At first it seems like he’ll be a good match for them – despite their apparent wealth, they claim that they need the extra cash, and Arquette makes a first impression as a quiet and polite, if a little awkward, guy. But this living arrangement quickly turns into a nightmare for the family, especially the pair of teenage daughters, as Robert’s creep signals grow louder and clearer.
This movie is a pretty straightforward suspense film with some culty elements and sacrificial rites mixed in for good measure. It does a good job building the menacing threat that Arquette’s character becomes. Robert’s not exactly consistent and some of his actions seem abrupt, but Arquette works with what he’s given – this man is not an amateur, and his professionalism shows. The family, played by lesser-known actors, keep up with him onscreen, with Kristen Dalton and Victor Browne as the worried parents and real-life sisters Morissa and Alana O’Mara as the angsty teenage girls Danielle and Rose.
Despite the story’s lack of tangents or frills, it still seems cobbled together sometimes. It turns out that Robert is running a harem of petite teenage girls who he’s apparently brainwashed into killing their families and pledging their love to him. There’s not any further explanation given to this side of the story, and it doesn’t necessarily need a whole backstory explained to the audience in precise terms, but the way this plot line is introduced is jarring and inconsistent with how it evolves later on.
Other scenes are apparently pointless at first, like when we see Rose’s social situation at school or Danielle’s romance with her father’s music student. It turns out that these elements are only in place to provide a higher body count later on, during the film’s climax that finally brings Robert’s madness into full light. The scene’s sacrificial wedding unravels into the film’s final moments, when people just start running and driving around the woods without any direction, finally culminating in an ending that lacks resolution or satisfaction.
For quite a while, The Cottage seems like it will be a fulfilling movie. It’s shot well, the cast is talented, and there is some legitimate terror in the fact that Arquette, a guy who exudes a certain sort of slimy sexuality, is within a stone’s throw of these teenage girls and their swimming pool. The fact that it fails in the end is probably because it’s screenwriter Nick Antosca’s first feature film. Or maybe it’s because the film remains relatively timid despite its skeezy antagonist. Had it gone for all-out depravity, it might have ended up being notorious or at least memorable but as it stands, The Cottage is a cheesy stereotypical thriller that squanders the effective set-up it begins with.