(Published in Issue 9 of my publication In Retrospect)
Premiered at the South by Southwest film festival last month, The Cabin In The Woods is an American horror directed and co-written by Drew Goddard with co-writer Joss Whedon. Following five friends – Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams) – who go for a break to a remote cabin in the woods, where they soon realise that not everything isn’t quite right and together must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods. Whilst my review will sound pretty similar to the many others you have probably already read, I will be criticising why these techniques do not work rather than shouting its praises – please don’t hate me.
As you probably already know – The Cabin In The Woods is not a typical horror film. The great thing about this film is that it de-constructs the typical horror movie clichés that we are used to and turns the genre on its head by mocking traditional conventions. So we know the story – a group of young friends each with their own well-worn archetypes go on a ‘break’ from university to find themselves the target of some haunting situation that means inevitable death for most if not all of them. Here, however, the group of friends are being observed by a mysterious conspiracy of international scientists, headed up by Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), who are controlling the strange and creepy ongoings that the cabin-goers experience.
But is that a new concept? No, not really. Shark Night 3D did the same last year with a plot that followed a group of hillbillies that fed their sharks on the teens that visited their lake for summer break. So what’s different about The Cabin In The Woods? Well, Goddard’s film takes these typical genres and overly played-out films to mock them, and that’s what fans are loving. There’s no shouting “Don’t go down there, you’ll get eaten”, rather a “Yes, you keep heading towards your inevitable death because we all want to see you die.” Unfortunately, this mockery doesn’t come off remarkably well, as whilst it’s obvious that the intention is there, it’s not enough for you to join in on the laughter. Cabin In The Woods is far from a serious film, but it is not as ‘silly’ or ‘fun’ as I had hoped either.
Focusing on the American horror clichés that we usually hate about such films, The Cabin In The Woods has to heavily focus on these scenes to make the story make sense. Whilst it makes fit for a solid plot, it is these scenes that we have to watch for the most part of the film which at times is just plain boring. When these scenes then contrast with ones of the government men controlling them to give the film its unique twist, unfortunately, this didn’t quite work at first either. This was because the film made this second storyline obvious from the start, giving us more information on what these government men were doing from the off start so that by the time the teenagers got to the cabin we were already pretty aware of what was going on. It was only towards the end of the film that these contrasting stories managed to come together well enough for it to work without complaint (maybe only for me, but still).
One thing that can be applauded in The Cabin In The Woods is that the film had a cast of decent actors for a change who as well had a decent script to work with. As the directorial debut for the author of Cloverfield there was a lot of good aspects to the film, but for me, it just all failed to come together to make the brilliant film I heard so much about. The actors may of all performed solidly throughout, but it wasn’t a fun experience to be a part of this group. It was only Jenkins and Whitford watching over them that provided any form of entertainment, and whilst I can admit that I laughed more than a few times, that doesn’t mean that the film was funny overall. Not even including Chris Hermsworth – The Avenger’s Thor – was enough to persuade me otherwise.
Again, it was only towards the end of the film that I began to appreciate it – and for those that have seen the film, I mean from the scenes involving the elevators onwards (I can’t give away anymore without spoiling it!). These last twenty minutes are a great piece of cinema, and really reflected Goddard’s previous work with Whedon on both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel as a writer.
The Cabin In The Woods a clever take on the horror genre and I did enjoy the plot, but it just wasn’t enough to make me want to see it again.