October 16, 2012
The Cabin in the Woods feels like a very special episode of Buffy. No, not 'very special' like the one where all the Scoobies discovered that beer was in fact bad, but a brilliant bonus instalment that has arrived nearly ten years since that groundbreaking series called it quits. Directed by former Vampire Slayer scribe Drew Goddard, and co-written by that series' creator Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods is both chilling and cackle-inspiring. Most significantly, it's consistently surprising, and that alone is cause for recommendation in the age of endless reboots and the non-stop barrage of demonic possession movies.
In honour of the film's fresh, funny, freakiness, we won't dance around its ingenious plot. If you would like the secret of The Cabin in the Woods to remain just that, turn back now and know that it's been heartily recommended. But, if you dare to venture down the twisted path - through the Wes Craven channel , over the John Carpentered bridge, and by the mist-drenched Sean Cunningham lake - you can explore the unique foundation upon which the Cabin stands. Just watch out for those spindly Sam Raimi trees. They can get a little handsy.
It’s a novel concept. What if all those horror movie clichés were in fact historically refined and statistically reliable methods of dispatching dumb teenagers to appease an angry deity? Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins – two incredibly appealing character actors more than capable of delivering whip-fast, Whedonesque one-liners – play workaday employees of some major corporation that manipulates scenarios in which kids will find themselves unwittingly subject to supernatural suffering. Their bloody sacrifice postpones the end-of-the-world by another couple of weeks, and the bored engineers take bets on which monster from their rogues gallery will be randomly selected to do the torturing. Will it be the mutant hick family raised from the dead, or will the honour go to a batch of evil clowns? Maybe aliens. Maybe a giant snake. Perhaps, vengeful God willing, the freakish and underutilised merman will get his moment to shine.
The affable kids doomed to this cruel but necessary experiment are Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Holden (Jesse Williams), and Marty (Fran Kranz), variations on the traditional Virgin, Jock, Slut, Nerd, and Stoner stereotypes. Though none adequately fits into their prescribed form, those clever engineers fill their holiday cabin with drugs and gasses that reduce their brain cells, increase their hormones, and inspire them to investigate mysterious bumps in the night (even when a reasonable person would smartly – and instantly – bail). The five of them similarly feel like characters we’ve long known and loved from Whedon’s previous endeavours, which makes the experience of watching them suffer slightly harrowing. Then again, since when aren’t we forced to mourn the death of a beloved character from those shows?
Goddard has a good understanding of the genre, just as Raimi exhibited in Drag Me to Hell. That said, it’s a much better satire and spoof than it is a horror flick. All the self-awareness means we are never really immersed in the sensation of impending dread that the best scary movies often drown us in. But the film is truly funny, and it does explode in a final melee of imagination and gore that supersedes any other production that has sought to scare us good over the past few years. Witty, well performed, and just wicked enough without ever being truly disturbing (for better or worse), The Cabin in the Woods is one hell of a ride.
The Cabin in the Woods arrives on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia October 24, 2012.