FILM REVIEW: The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods has been involved in something of a review furore over the past week with certain reviewers revealing spoilers and causing consternation for those people who want to go in and see the film cold. So I'm issuing a disclaimer straight away: This review will not contain any spoilers whatsoever, other than information that has appeared in the trailer for the film. 





Directed by Cloverfield's Drew Goddard, produced by Joss Whedon and written by both, Cabin in the Woods has been stuck on the shelf for awhile after MGM's financial difficulties. Now the film is finally with us, 18 months late but thankfully, just as fresh and as relevant. I heard about this project when it was first being produced back in 2009 and was ridiculously excited for it then. With all the anticipation for the film, mostly on my part, it could have easily become just another horror movie dud, but in the hands of genre mash-up extraordinaires Goddard and Whedon, we've got something that could be just as revolutionary as Scream was back in the 90s.

The film follows five college kids, Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Dana (Kristen Connelly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Jules (Anna Hutchinson), off for a long weekend to Curt's cousin's cabin in the woods. On the way, we get the five meeting your stereotypical country hick (played brilliantly by Tim de Zarn) and being warned away from the cabin at the end of Tillerman Road. Instead of doing the sensible thing and turning around, the quintet of canon fodder head off to the remote location and proceed to awaken something that wants to slice and dice them one by one. But is there all there is to it? And just what do Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) have to do with it all?

Now I can't stress enough that if you want to enjoy this film as fully as possible, it's essential to avoid all the spoilers you can. The primary reason for this is because The Cabin in the Woods is a film that demands to be viewed with very little prior knowledge and that's part of the joy of the experience; you think you know what's coming but trust me when I say you really don't.

Every twist, shock, surprise, laugh etc. comes from not being able to expect anything because you honestly have no idea what's about to happen. There were moments in the film where I jumped at something scary, laughed really hard at something funny, back to jumping, back to laughing again, all in the space of about 60 seconds of the film. It's a fantastic cinematic experience and it's really refreshing to attend a film where you haven't worked out the plot within about thirty seconds.

As you'd expect from Whedon and Goddard, the writing is brilliant, treading the fine line between horror and comedy throughout. It's a testament to both writers that, with a genre so tired and a format so familiar that the audience always knows what's coming, they inject new life into it, reminding us all why we love horror films so much in the first place. In the first half an hour, the cliches come thick and fast but the deconstruction of them comes just as quick, never once letting you forget that what you're watching is a horror film that is aware of exactly what it is.

Praise must also go to the excellent cast that were assembled for the film. The five actors portraying the college kids each fit their roles well, playing the horror archetypes that we're all used to seeing. The standout in this part of the ensemble is Fran Kranz as the stoner fool of the group, given some of the best lines in the film and stealing most scenes from the others. 

A pre-Thor Hemsworth does the supposedly dumb jock well while Connelly's virginal Dana is played with all the wide-eyed innocence you'd expect from that particular character. The best performances in the film though are Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the mysterious pair you see right at the beginning of the film. The chemistry between the two actors is a joy to watch and their appearances are a real highlight. 

Films that are meta in their construction often run the risk of being too clever for their own good. We've of course had the meta horror film before in Wes Craven's Scream but The Cabin in the Woods blows it away, simply because it's a lot more fun. Where it succeeds is that it has a considerable amount of love for the films it's poking fun at. The film knows it's extremely clever and self-aware, but, importantly, it doesn't take itself too seriously, making it one of the most fun films I have seen in a long time.


*****

- Becky

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