I like films where an unassuming set of real world circumstances lead the main characters into a horror situation. It makes us feel as though we’ve started one film and by chance the narrative has wandered into the macabre as opposed to knowingly starting off the film like that (From Dusk Till Dawn is a nice example. The Cottage follows this effective motif with two petty criminals, one a meek pussy (Peter Shearsmith) the other a hotheaded asshole (Andy Serkis) who kidnap the daughter (smokin’ Irish model Jennifer Ellison) of a very wealthy man and hide out in a remote forest cabin to negotiate ransom. Her being an uncooperative little spitfire turns out to be the least of their problems though as they soon discover they aren’t alone in the cottage. Out of nowhere barrels in a deformed, nine foot tall, Jason Voorhees-esque monster farmer who’s out for blood and it’s now up to them to survive or they’ll never see any money, let alone all their limbs remaining attached to their bodies. The first half of the film sets up character dynamic nicely with Serkis naturally stealing the show and then later on its an all out grisly bloodbath as the farmer comes in swinging. Being a British horror film it has that wry underlying sense of humour to it as well as spectacularly gory visual effects and a suspenseful, chamber piece tone. Oh, and watch for a beat cameo by Doug ‘Pinhead’ Bradley from the Hellraiser films as an angry villager.
I’ve never seen The Phantom Of The Opera on stage, so so I have nothing to really compare Joel Shumacher’s 2004 cinematic vision to, but I know that it was one of the most glorious and formative theatre going experiences for me, so much so that I think I probably went and saw the thing like eight times when it came out. I had never heard a single of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music before then and had not a clue as to what the story was. My extant of Phantom knowledge at that point was only of a chalky faced, emaciated Lon Chaney Jr. skulking around a silent black and white frame.
I was cosmically blown away by the magic of it, the story, the songs, the rich production design and especially the two elemental lead performances from Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. Again, no idea how the stage actors compare to these two, but Gerard and Emmy’s take on the Phantom and Christine are now scorched into my psyche as the definitive versions. Butler nails the formula perfectly: scary when he needs to be, tender when he wants to be and always a formidable force of dark romanticism and tragic damnation. Rossum is like an angelic comet as Christine Daae, with the best singing voice of the cast and a presence that will bring the viewer to tears and make you instantly fall in love with her.
Christine works in the prestigious Opera Populaire as a chorus girl, until she is shunted into the limelight when their prima donna of a star singer (a flat out brilliant Minnie Driver) walks off in a huff. Rossum then proceeds to move heaven and earth with her rendition of ‘Think Of Me’, accompanied by some of the most incredible camera work I’ve seen, sweeping through the elegant halls along with her crystal clear voice.
The mysterious Phantom watches her from dark alcoves and hidden buttresses, entranced by her talent and brimming with love sickness. He has love in him no doubt, but we all know there is hate there too, catalyzed by an unfortunate deformation and a cruel past that has left him in exile. He basically runs the show from the shadows though, with utmost class and heaps of theatrical menace.
Christine also has eyes for her childhood friend Raoul (Patrick Wilson). Wilson is the only player who seems a bit out of his depth, perhaps because he hadn’t yet found the assurance in stride and charisma he has in his roles these days. Miranda Richardson is excellent as ever in an understated turn as Christine’s aunt and teacher. Jennifer Ellison is her friend and fellow singer Meg. Ciaran Hinds and Simon Callow are inspired as the comic relief duo who purchases the opera house, and watch for Kevin R. McNally as well.
Every song is a winner, every frame composed of grandiose ambition and every ounce of vocal strength thrown forth by the cast, particularly Rossum and Butler who go a mile and then some, holding their own individual presence as well as pulling off the sorrowful chemistry between the Phantom and Christine. There’s a few key sequences that should go down in the history books on how to stage a scene, including a dazzling masquerade ball, a wintry swordfight in a cemetery, the aforementioned Think Of Me, and my personal favourite: a mournful black and white prologue set decades after the story, kicking the film off with a rousing flourish of motion and music. I’m sure there are scores of people who swear by the stage production and want nothing to do with this, or simply weren’t wowed to the levels I was. That’s fine. For me though, I don’t see any version ever topping this jewel of a film, and the classic two disc dvd sits proudly on my shelf, daring any other rendition, cinematic or otherwise to give it a run for it’s money.