Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Curt: "This isn't right. We should split up."
Holden: "Yeah, good idea."
Marty: "...Really?!"

- The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods has attracted a lot more hype than there is for your average horror, and that may have a little something to do with it the attachment of russet-bearded thundergeek Joss Whedon as writer. We knew we'd be getting something different - the promo material suggested something along the lines of The Evil Dead by way of Cube, and that's not completely wide of the mark - but even going in with full knowledge of Whedon's love for genre-bending, pop-culture-dissecting comedy, The Cabin in the Woods still surprises and amazes. It's a horror film, and it's a horror film about horror films. Spoilers ahead - and Cabin definitely falls into the "less you know, the better" category.

The premise: five college kids (fulfilling the horror Major Arcana of Stoner, Jock, Nerd, Slutty Blonde and Innocent Girl) head for a beer-and-drugs-soaked weekend in a remote woodland cabin. Unknown to them, their every move is being watched and manipulated from the get-go by a shadowy organisation operating out of a surveillance facility deep underground - a gleaming, hi-tech steel-and-glass complex that's somewhat at odds with the inept, cynical staff who run its day-to-day business. This business, it transpires, is to callously kill off the kids using any one of a vast array of movie monsters (bored staff members run a sweepstake on which one the kids will choose), which are stored warehouse-fashion until needed.

The Cabin in the Woods pitches itself somewhere between parody, loving tribute and total re-imagination of the conventions of horror. It would be so easy for a premise like this to fall flat, but it's Whedon's relentless inventiveness and his great eye for in-jokes ('stupid gas' released by the surveillance team ensures the kids don't outwit the redneck zombies sent to kill them; even the archetypal creepy gas station attendant gets a great comic scene) that sets the pace and sustains it. From the brilliantly schlocky opening, Cabin never stops being creative, and has the good sense not to let its subtext - the voyeuristic and desensitising nature of graphic horror - ever get in the way of the fun.

The cast deserves a lot of credit for breathing life into a slew of characters we've seen a thousand times before, with special mentions going to Fran Kranz's stoner savant, and Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the bickering, coffee-slurping jobsworths controlling the action. Just as good is the creature design - there are a lot of monsters in this film, paying homage to everything from Ringu to Hellraiser, all of which come out to play in a frantic, blood-soaked climax that feels like the movie's centrepiece. Aside from anything else, this demonstrates that director Drew Goddard (of Cloverfield fame; perhaps unfairly overshadowed by Whedon in the promo) knows his way around a great action sequence.

If I have a criticism, it's that the big reveal at the end feels just a bit too knowingly cheesy, almost like an afterthought - but that's only because everything that's come before it has been so very well-judged. It's really just the tying up of a big loose end, and it's hard to be too disappointed when you're still reeling from everything the film's thrown at you. That's about it, though - all in all, I'm confident The Cabin in the Woods will be the most fun you've had at the cinema all year.

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