Today: April 12, 2024

The Cabin In The Woods

Don’t reinvent the genre, define it!

Don’t reinvent the genre, define it!

Waaay back in
1996 Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson concocted the
delightfully satirical, but still scary, Scream. The film brilliantly poked fun at the
clichés of the horror genre in which “some stupid killer stalking some
big-breasted girl, who can’t act, who is always running up the stairs when she
should be running out the front door.
It’s insulting”. It was a
huge success, spawning no less than three sequels, to date, and a pastiche
franchise in Scary Movie. The
Cabin In The Woods
doesn’t try and poke fun at the genre, instead it takes
keystone elements, staples if you like, and spins them into one of the most
original, clever and outright enjoyable horror films of the past ten
years.

Five friends,
jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), tease
Jules (Anna Hutchison), brains
Holden (Jesse Williams), stoner
Marty (Fran Kranz) and virginal Dana
(Kristen Connolly), set out for a
weekend retreat at Curt’s cousin’s cabin.
It’s a typical horror set-up; a cabin in the middle of nowhere, a creepy
guy warning them no one returns from it and a cellar full of trinkets just
waiting to unleash evil. Upon
reading the diary of Patience Buckner (Jodelle
Ferland
), Dana unwittingly unleashes the torturous, zombified Buckner
family who promptly set about attacking our naïve group. But something is amiss. Whilst the chaos unfolds two
administrators, Steve Hadley (Bradley
Whitford
) and Richard Sitterson (Richard
Jenkins
) hidden deep in a military style bunker, watching the events unfold
on CCTV cameras. They need certain
things to happen in a particular order and will play every trick in the book to
manipulate the kids into doing what is necessary. But what is their end goal, who are Sitterson and Hadley
working for and just what the holy hell is actually going on?

Given The Cabin
In The Woods is from Buffy creator Joss Whedon and Cloverfield writer Drew
Goddard
there is no end to the level of possibilities of where it can
go. Suffice to say it’s one of
those films where the less you know before seeing it, the better. Why? Because Cabin is, simply put, one of the most outrageously
fun, chaotic and crazy horror films you’re ever likely to see. It’s clear that Whedon and Goddard have
had a whale of a time finding ways to keep you guessing, hinting at other
horror films and never losing sight of the fact that in order for a horror film
to tick the right boxes, it has to adhere to certain clichés but if you flip
them on their head, give them a reason and challenge the audience to keep up,
you’re onto a winning formula.

The first two
acts play out as a run of the mill horror film, with the deus ex machina of the
military base keeping you firmly riveted and willing the clichés to come thick
and fast. If anything Hadley and
Sitterson are Goddard and Whedon, pulling levers and pressing buttons to ensure
the right blood letting happens at just the right time. What makes Cabin all the more fun is
while the kids are being treated as puppets so are the audience. Not in a M. Night Shyamalan way, there’s no rug pulling here, just a
brilliant concept executed with a wonderfully dry sense of black humour that
keeps you dangling on a string of excitement and anticipation. It’s not so much trying to reinvent the
genre, or even pastiche it in the way Scream did, but celebrate it, bask in its
lunacy and then splatter it all over the walls like a kids painting class. In fact, there are so many inner-childs
running loose, by the end of Cabin it’s near impossible for someone not to find
something utterly familiar to grab with both hands and run to their friend
screaming “YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE”!

Part of this
comes from the performances. The
kids are designed to hint at certain stereotypes but only within the rules of
the genre. In truth they’re always
playing just off-type. So Chris
Hemsworth’s Curt is a jock but with enough book-smart to be able to help the
otherwise innocent Dana with what books to impress her lecturers with. Anna Hutchison meanwhile certainly puts
a cutesy flirtatious spin on Jules and if ever there is an Oscar for best hunting
trophy seduction she is surely a shoe-in.
Fran Kranz, best known for Whedon’s Dollhouse,
plays the stoner role with enough narrow-eyed drug haze amusement to make him a
character you want to root for.
Connolly as Dana is never asked to do much more than be the wide-eyed
dear in the headlights but she certainly ticks the scream queen box. All the while Richard Jenkins and Bradley
Whitford, two names who always make any film better, quietly go about stealing
the show. Their nonchalant outlook
on the situation combined with their friendly interactions make you long for
their scenes above anything else.
Throw Amy Acker into the mix
as a pent-up scientist and you have a concoction of characters with chemistry
worth dying for.

The horror genre
is one of the most popular throughout film history. More horror films are released each year than any other so
it takes something special to break the mold, feel fresh and reinvigorate the
love of all things horror. The
Cabin In The Woods is that film, a film so wonderfully in love with the genre
it both plays on it while revering and defining it in equal measure. And, with any luck, there isn’t a cat’s
chance in hell of there being a sequel.
Suffice to say this is one wood worth venturing into.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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