Nothing Like a Weekend at the Cottage!

Cottage Country
(Canada, 91 min.)
Dir. Peter Wellington, Writ. Jeremy Boxen
Starring: Tyler Labine, Malin Ackerman, Daniel Petronijevic, Lucy Punch.
Tyler Labine and Malin Akerman star in Cottage Country
Ah, the cottage. It’s where life is nice and pretty for forty-eight hours of the week: the loons sing and the waves ripple, and the cottage provides enough R&R to recharge weary city folk for the week that lies ahead. Todd (Tyler Labine) is like many Canucks who hate their job and live for the weekend just so they can escape to the cottage. The upcoming weekend looks to be an extra special getaway, as Todd plans to propose to his girlfriend Cammie (Malin Ackerman) on the island at the cottage, where the loons and colourful leaves will help the diamond ring shimmer in the cottage country sunset. There’s just one unexpected hitch, however, to Todd and Cammie’s perfect weekend: they have to say “Until death do us part” before they can say “I do”.

Todd’s obnoxious/deadbeat brother Salinger (Daniel Petronijevic) crashes the engagement party when he forgoes Todd’s precise system of booking the cottage over the Internet and moseys on up to the Muskoka lake house unannounced. If Salinger clashes with Todd, then his Eurotrash girlfriend Masha (Lucy Punch) doesn’t jive at all with the prim and proper Cammie. It doesn’t help, either, that Tweedledee and Tweedledum intrude upon the chalet while Cammie’s giving Todd a special weekend getaway blowjob.

Todd and Cammie, irked by Salinger and Masha spoiling their perfect weekend, do the logical thing to the reclaim the peace and quiet: they kill them.

Cottage country would be twice as peaceful if vacationers could simply bludgeon with an axe all the obnoxious loonies and urbanites who take the weekend to hoot and holler at the beavers, drink some suds, and vanish the next day. Cottage Country has a trifle of blood-spattered, mean-spirited humour, then, as it shows the proud couple-to-be butcher their kin in an effort to get back to basics. One has to admire the chutzpah of the happy couple in this black comedy.

Writer Jeremy Boxton has a lot of fun with the tried and tested formula of the cabin in the woods, as Cottage Country enjoys a little splat-n-chuckle mayhem with the escapism of cottage country living. There’s nothing uniquely Canadian about running away to the cottage, but there is something about the woodsy freedom that speaks to a quintessential cliché of Canuck contentment. To see Todd and Cammie transform, for example, from high-strung yuppies to raincoat-wearing outdoorsy types recalls many a city-dweller who changes mindsets with the flick of a mental switch as soon as he or she gets a whiff of that pine-scented country air. Cottages make people do crazy things.

It shouldn’t surprise viewers that this tongue-in-cheek farce on Canadiana comes from Hobo with a Shotgun producer Frank Siracusa. Cottage Country has an air of a Saturday matinee vacation comedy thanks to the bright and rustic cinematography by Luc Montpelier (Take This Waltz, The Right Kind of Wrong), but the descent into bloody mayhem comes fast and quick as the uptight yuppies take control of their tranquil weekend getaway. Labine and Ackerman have a lot of fun playing a zany cross between Red Green and the Macbeths, for their straight-laced eccentricity as the pair of city squares sells the gory lampoon of this national pastime. On the other hand, the quick and dirty hack job of Salinger and Masha sees Lucy Punch exit the film far too early, for her hilarious performance as the sleazy floozy with a riotously unplaceable accent is easily the highlight of the film. (The girlfriend who looks like a prostitute is also a rare, but not uncommon, sight amongst idyll cottage living…) Cottage Country suffers when Punch’s saucy presence exits the picture, but Masha’s garbled speeches about making the perfect Caesar and the European sex trade are outrageous enough to keep the gas going for a few minutes after she is chopped and dropped in the lake.

The Loony Tunes violence then gets a hit of Rhymes for Young Ghouls as the ghosts come back to haunt Todd. The decaying made-up Salinger, who awkwardly looks a lot like a rotting version of Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight, gives Cottage Country something strange and unusual as the film adds an icky bit of body horror to the Barney’s Version-ish cottage-weekend-gone-awry shtick. The bodies pile up as Todd and Cammie do the horror movie thing and kill more people to keep their plan in check. (The obsessively organized Cammie is a fan of “the plan”.)

Like the intruders on Todd and Cammie’s weekend, though, the fun of Cottage Country overstays its welcome a little too much. After the zaniness of its beginning, the film begins to feel a little hungover as it chugs along in its choppy final act. The tone of this black comedy becomes a little wobbly when a roster of secondary characters appear and aggravate the polite, perfect couple (and, in turn, us) with unrelenting questions about the disappearance of Salinger and Masha. The final frenzy of Cottage Country flies so far into outrageous mayhem, though, that it’s bound to leave cinephilic cottagers sharing a chuckle that the whole macabre affair was justifiable homicide.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Cottage Country screens in Ottawa at the Rainbow until Thursday, Nov. 14.