Thrills, chills and laughs abound in this inventive, intelligent meta-horror film co-written and produced by Joss Whedon.
Intended as both a celebration of the horror genre and a critique of its recent ‘torture porn’ excesses, The Cabin in the Woods gleefully celebrates the established conventions of the slasher movie while simultaneously throwing the horror rulebook out the window. It’s a film that, if unspoiled (don’t watch the trailer if you’ve not yet seen the film; it gives too much away) is certain to have you gasping, laughing, and wondering ‘What the fuck?’ all within its first eight minutes. And as we all know, to quote that renowned Transylvanian hedonist, Dr Frank-N-Furter, ‘A mental mind-fuck can nice’.
Co-written by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers) and Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cloverfield), who also directs, The Cabin in the Woods is a mind-fuck of the best possible kind. It takes familiar tropes – the remote cabin, the five holidaying college students up for a good time, the menacing hillbilly muttering dire warnings – and both honours and deconstructs them while simultaneously dismembering its photogenic cast. At the same time it adds an entirely new and unpredictable plot to the mix: one that directly implicates you, the viewer, and your bloodlust, in the events occurring on screen.
The result is a genuinely scary, often funny, and very entertaining film – as well as one that’s incredibly difficult to review without giving away most of its delights and surprises.
Shot in 2009 but not released until 2012 due to financial difficulties at backing studio MGM, The Cabin in the Woods seems intended for movie buffs and novices alike. Horror film trainspotters will delight in its references to genre classics such as The Evil Dead, Hellraiser and even Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. Everyone else will just enjoy the ride.
Fans of Whedon’s traditionally snappy dialogue will not be disappointed, but the film matches smart dialogue with clever visuals, such as an early scene that cuts from stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) waving a joint and promising enlightenment, to a mysterious bunker door slowly swinging open. And while The Cabin in the Woods sticks resolutely to the traditional three act structure, its third acts pulls out all the stops, with extravagant and delightful results.
As foreshadowed by its opening scene – a conversation between two buttoned-down middle-management types – the film subtly expresses a key subtext of numerous horror films: a pathological envy of the young. At the same time, thanks to the same two mysterious, middle aged men and their work colleagues, The Cabin in the Woods overtly condemns its audience for wanting to watch the violent deaths of its young protagonists. That it does so while presenting some truly gory scenes, with a body count that makes the infamous foyer scene in The Matrix look like Play School, while still managing to evoke the impersonal cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft, only adds to the film’s overall entertainment value.
The DVD release features a 27-minute documentary, We Who Are Not We: Making The Cabin in the Woods, an engaging but not especially original look behind the scenes. Two additional documentaries, examining make-up and animatronic effects, and visual effects, feature on the Blu-ray release.
At a time when studios seem intent on bland remakes, torture porn, or contrived POV spectacles, The Cabin in the Woods is a strikingly clever, engaging and original horror movie. It’s also bloody entertaining, and highly recommended.
Rating: 4 ½ stars
The Cabin in the Woods
Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Cast includes: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Bradley Whitford
USA, 2011, 95 mins
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Roadshow Entertainment