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The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
Director: Drew Goddard

review by Paul Higson
SPOILER ALERT!
Well, this is a rum do and no mistaking it. Today's films don't tend to build up much advance notoriety, never mind retain the hullabaloo once on general release, but Drew Goddard's The Cabin In The Woods (co-scripted with Joss Whedon) has been generating a lot of positive noise, and with good reason. If you have even a partial liking for, or marginal understanding, of the popular horror film since 1980 then you should take to this smart postmodern fright flick. The more you know about the genre in recent decades the more you should get from it.

Spoiler alerts are unavoidable with some films and normally relate to a final twist or at the very earliest as a movie enters its third act and the beautiful half-caste singer turns round and presents her dick to you. That is hardly the case here. The purpose of a spoiler alert here is not to protect the reader from some final reveal but to prevent the reader from too much aforethought at all because, once in your cinema seat and the film is running, the scenario is apparent fairly soon after, to everyone but the terminally dim.

Rumbustious, imploring music and satanic images hit the screen with the opening titles, only to suddenly fall away and leave us with the office-cooler double-act of Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), discussing kith and kin. The conversation follows them across floors and they jump into a buggy and drive to another part of a large underground complex. Shortly after, when we catch up with them, they are in a control room. If the viewer is already querulous and suspicious then maybe they are doltish enough that they should be the star of a teen horror film.

Talking of which, up top, a horror film is commencing with a classic introduction as an attractive redhead, Dana (Kristen Connolly) is seen as a Louma crane rises and pokes its nose through a first-floor window to catch the girl in her knickers. Her friend Jules (Anna Hutchison) turns up as a conveniently freshly-dyed blonde because, hey, we already have the redhead. So how about a hunk boyfriend who is a bit of an arse, a black friend who could be an ass but is actually Mr Decent and a weed infused dropout relative to make up a quintet for a weekend escape to a... tell you what, let's make it a cabin in the woods. Cue Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), and Fran Kranz (Marty), respectively to fit these models.

One of the many absurdities of Gary Ross' recent film The Hunger Games (2012) was a manufactured environment in which computer-generated creatures and fireballs are a real threat to competitors. In common with The Hunger Games there is a competition preserving the wider civilisation, in which there must be no more than one survivor and in which the adventure takes place in an elaborate manmade backdrop. Again, we are not far into the movie before the phoniness of the woods is revealed when a bird of prey is zapped into feathers flying into a wall.

By this point we have already seen a lot of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes 2 (1983) in the film, with a smidgen of Jeff Lieberman's Just Before Dawn (1980), and just about any other early 1980s horror film. Meanwhile the control room drums up earlier obsessions in artificial environments such as Westworld (1972), and Welcome to Blood City (1977). But the central location is the cabin, and The Evil Dead (1982) provides the source of this part of the film as five young people spend the night in a building very similar in appearance to the one in the Wisconsin classic, replete with a trapdoor that slams open unassisted at a key moment. The cellar is a curiosity cabinet of bric-a-brac and, back in the control room, there is a wager on which object will be courted first securing the fate of the group.

They duly summon up redneck zombies though we are informed that they could very easily have dredged up mermen or a giant snake. The shuffling corpses will be the least of their problems as, despite the killings and losses, the survivors fathom out to some degree what is actually taking place and by retaliating to it they inadvertently turn the film into a cavalcade of monsters. It is with this final act that the film comes into its most striking and bizarre of connections as a live-action Monsters Inc. (2002) with tits and blood.

Like The Hunger Games, The Cabin In The Woods has can be daft but it's rat-a-tat brisk, the dialogue toying and the editing sprightly, giving you little time to ask the question as to what might be wrong with this film. And what is wrong with this film? The move to a finale is a slight problem, having reduced the cast, the movie closes in the least interesting space, dwelling in its finale upon the silliness that we have been successfully distracted away from until this point. But the last minute blip is no great detraction from the overall entertainment value of the film and there is enough to make one smile. Shouldn't it also have some genuine scares though? But in being a fun horror, in cancelling out the fear quotient doesn't that make it all the more successful a 1980s horror pastiche? Go see!

The Cabin in the Woods artwork




The Cabin in the Woods poster



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