Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

I said a few entries back that the cinema-going choice was to see "Headhunters" or the above film; the slick Norwegian contender won the day, but as suspected I have now caught up with "Cabin" which seems to have horror buffs (and I must count myself among them) wetting their pants with joy. The movie was actually made in 2009 as a collaboration between Joss Whedon (with his "Buffy", "Angel", and "Firefly"cult following) and his writing partner Drew Goddard (best known for "Cloverfield" which I must confess left me cold). It then sat on a shelf while MGM went into meltdown, until Lionsgate rescued it for a festival premiere at the end of 2011.  Now that it has finally had its widespread release, it had the fans chomping at the bit in anticipation and is being hyped as the ultimate horror experience.

Well, not quite!  Co-written by the pair, produced by Whedon, and directed by Goddard, they themselves have described the film as their 'loving hate letter' to horror movies.  Despite an unusual beginning which introduces jobsworths Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in their high-tech laboratory jokily overseeing some technological experiments, the film soon morphs into stereotypical horror film territory and we temporarily forget these two boffins.  We are introduced to the five college students who might have migrated from any number of horror genre films into this movie -- the slightly promiscuous co-ed (the whore), the jock, the student, the joker, and the good-girl (the virgin) -- although none of them completely fit into the category into which they've been slotted, and guess what?, they are off to the proverbial cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun and games.  We even have them encountering the standard red-neck gas station attendant en route who prophesises their doom. All of the cliches seem to be in place right through to a game of 'truth or dare' leading the friends into the cabin's spooky cellar.  However, all of a sudden we are back in Jenkins' and Whitford's gleaming lab, with their co-workers betting on which monsters might appear, and we know that we are in the middle of a different sort of horror experience.

Whedon and Goddard are out to play havoc with pulp horror conventions turning expectations on their heads and throwing in just about everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, leaving the viewer with the sort of overkill that can only be reconciled by the totally unexpected denouement. Reviewers have been careful about not letting spoilers mar new viewers potential enjoyment of this confection and I, of course, must do the same, since the finale when it comes is nearly, if not entirely, out of left field. The film's creators are having fun at our willing expense and have given us a thoroughly entertaining movie, as long as we have remembered to park all logic and rational expectations at the door.  References are made to numerous other films from the genre, and at times it feels as if one is sitting some sort of college entrance exam on horror history. This of course makes the film fun, if not particularly consistently great film-making.  It is largely a mixture of self-aware laughter cushioned by oh-my-god goofiness, the only scary part being not knowing what to expect before the you-must-be-kidding ending.

Apart from a star cameo appearance towards the end (which I won't spoil), the cast are a pretty mixed bunch.  Jenkins and Whitford, as puppet-masters going through their usual boring paces, make the film continuously watchable as a kind of ghoulish Greek chorus, watching gleefully as all possible horror antagonists are unleashed.  Others in the cast will be immediately recognised by Whedon groupies, but only Chris Hemsworth, by his subsequent Thor incarnation, is now well known. However both Kristen Connolly as the spunky (maybe) heroine and Fran Kranz as the stoner fighting zombies with his bong deserve special mention.

This film's eventual release coincides with Whedon's personal journey into the stratosphere with his new Avengers movie, but he has not let down his acolytes in the process. 


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