Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Review: The Cabin in the Woods

A spoiler-tastic look at one of the most talked about films of the year

One of the most talked about films of the year so far, The Cabin in the Woods is supposedly the movie which is impossible not to spoil. Though I happen to disagree with that assessment, I fear the wrath of those who would tell me that I ruined it for them. Certainly, a lot of the fun is working out what exactly is going on, so I shall merely say that I think the film is an absolute hoot, give you the slimmest of plot summaries, and ask that, when you’ve seen it, you come back here to read further.

So, here’s the slim plot summary: a bunch of college kids head off for a weekend in a cabin. In the woods. Before they get there, there is a sinister, stereotypical man who seems to be a harbinger of doom. They carry on regardless and head to the cabin. In the woods. Sounds familiar, but will all go as you expect? Well, go, see and come back.

Assuming that everyone who is reading from this point onwards has seen the film, this article may well turn into an all-out spoiler fest.

The first thing to say is that The Cabin in the Woods, taken on its own terms, is fantastic fun. Despite some initial, brief tension, this is not a scary horror film. It is just magnificent hokum. Though the obvious comparison is with the Scream and Evil Dead films, the film it reminded me most of was Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (the films do in fact share a cinematographer). It has that same tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top sensibility which makes the 90 minutes riotously enjoyable, also making a nice contrast with the torture-porn schlock which dominated the last decade. In fact, Joss Whedon, the co-writer of this film with director Drew Goddard, has described this film as a "critique" of that particular aspect of the horror genre. The contrast is clear, though critique may be a bit of grand term for this.

The upshot of this is that after some initial tension wears off (I thought the “whore” was going to have her face bitten off by that stuffed wolf), and the family of Redneck Torture Zombies begin to move the plot along, this is not a horror film anymore really. There are no jumps or scares to be had here.

However, there are plenty of laughs. After all, this is a film which has a board of potential super-natural beasties which includes Dismemberment Goblins, Angry Molesting Tree, Witches and Sexy Witches. Furthermore, most of its punchlines are being delivered by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, the latter getting one of the best screen deaths ever. They also have a genuinely funny stoner character (“I’m drawing a line in the fucking sand. Do NOT read the Latin!”), a trope which is so often lazily handled.

It’s undoubtedly entertaining, but it is the enemy of its own, no doubt effective, publicity. As the plot played itself out and the connection between the two sides of the story became more apparent, I must admit that I had a bit of a “Is that it?” reaction. So much of the audience’s expectations for this film are about being surprised, and it’s always difficult to surprise someone when you’ve told them you’re going to do so. Had there been a greater acknowledgement of the Jenkins-Whitford side of the story in the publicity, I feel that I would have been more likely to have been satisfied by the twist and turns. After all, the off-kilter element of the story is in the very first scene. There is no grand reveal.

Having said that, the absolute bloodbath of a final act made me smile and giggle like an idiot. It was so relentless and so amusing that I couldn’t help but by swept up in it, even through the stock gag of dragging Sigourney Weaver out as a cameo appearance.

Danny Baker had a very different reaction, saying “This time last year I had head and neck cancer. It was better than this. Cabin In The Woods is not ironic, clever, witty, post modern or a comment on horror films. It is an awful noisy boring mess.” I can understand that the full insanity of this film has the look of a mess, but I don’t think it is aiming to be as knowing and post-modern as some think it is. It’s a jolly, completely mad, riot. Sit back. Don’t relax. Enjoy.

Rating: B

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