THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
DIRECTED BY: Drew Goddard
WRITTEN BY: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
STARRING: Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams
RUNNING TIME: 105 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: Lionsgate
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Five friends; Holden McCrea, Kurt Vaughn, Marty Mikalski, Dana Polk and Jules Louden decide to spend a weekend away at a cabin in the woods. Dana is trying to get over an affair she had with a teacher, Jules and Kurt are a couple and trying to set Dana up with Holden, and Marty is just permenantly stoned. Unknown to them, the five are being watched on screens by some people who seem to be preparing them for something, but the group arrive safely at the cabin. The cabin has some strange features, like a nirror which is actually a window which can be used to see things from one side, and a cellar containing evidence of a murderous past of a family which once lived in the cabin. And then zombies start to attack……
Doing a relatively lengthy review of a film like The Cabin In The Woods is not going to be the easiest thing, because I don’t want to give away too much of the story. Therefore, if I sound rather vague in places, than I hope you will forgive me and understand why! The film is a kind of critique of the horror genre from Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon, especially the horror genre today, a critique that clearly loves the genre but thinks it has its problems, though of course it’s possible to just enjoy it as an initially fairly conventional, cliché-filled chiller that gets more and more wierd as it goes along. I had a feeling that I would love The Cabin in The Woods, but to be honest I was a little disappointed. It certainly has its heart in the right place, and is loads of fun, but it doesn’t entirely work. It has ideas to spare, but not everything is thought through, and there’s far too much of, frankly, Goddard and Wheddon having their cake and eating it. As I said though, it is loads of fun, and in a period when many horror films seem to be leaving out the fun factor, that has got to be applauded.
The film starts bizarrely, with lots of talking, some of it humorous, some of it vague, in some kind of building full of screens and buttons, then rather randomly cuts to the title and our teenagers. Except for Dana, we aren’t given much time to get to know these deliberately stereotypical teens, but it soon appears that we are in a typical ‘teenagers go into the countryside where they shouldn’t’ movie; there’s even a dodgy garage attendant. That is, of course, except for the man watching them wearing an earpiece and a really surprising bit where we see the group’s car go into a tunnel, and the camera instead follows a bird flying around the mountain…..which crashes into some partially-invisible barrier comprised of hexagons. Curiouser and curiouser, but we soon arrive at the cabin, which is like The Evil Dead’s cabin plonked next to Camp Crystal Lake, and a feeling of fear is partially built up. There is one of the most suspenseful ‘ going down to explore a darkened cellar’ scenes I’ve ever seen, and the reveal of the cellar’s contents including lots old pictures, dolls and a diary creates an effectively morbid ambience. Unfortunately we keep cutting to these other people watching them on the screens, in the process learning more and more about who they are, which may build up better to the revelation of What Exactly Is Going On, but diminishes the tension. The impression is of being shown two films, tenuously connected, at the same time, and it’s all a little forced and awkward.
Once the Big Twist is revealed and The Cabin in The Woods becomes less of a typical horror film, Goddard’s and Whedon’s true concerns come to the fore. There is much mocking of horror conventions, and the two have said that the film comments on many things they don’t like about modern horror cinema, but this aspect sometimes gets rather muddled, because some of what they are criticising have been staples of the horror movie since the genre began. I certainly raised a chuckle at things like one person saying to the others; “let’s split up – we can cover more ground that way”, and there are nice twist on things like The Evil Dead’s mist that comes out of the ground, but I got increasingly irritated that the whole plot gave the impression of being thrown up just to serve this critique. It certainly means many aspects of the story are almost thrown away and the whole main crazy science fiction concept is not explained enough.
Of course in no way am I saying everything should be explained in movies, especialy in science fiction, but with a concept like that in The Cabin In The Woods, a bit of explanation of how it all came to be may have really helped. Think of what The Matrix would have been like if we had been told what the Matrix was but not anything about how it was created. As it stands, you’ll probably admire the gall of the writers but not get out of your head the sheer absurdity of it all. I’m fine with audacious concepts as long as, for the duration of the movie, I ‘buy’ them. It doesn’t matter if I think how ridiculous it all may be afterwards, because the experience of watching the movie is the important thing. Throughout this movie, though, I was constantly saying to myself; “um….yeah” and “huh” and even “what the ****”, and not always in a good way!
Still, The Cabin In The Woods is hard to dislike with it’s almost-freewheeling manner, the way it brings in a distinct H.P.Lovecraft element and even seems to become influenced by that hugely enjoyable piece of nonsense Waxwork. Though a group of zombies are the chief menace, the movie winds up using a variety of monsters, most of which will be recognised by most horror fans, though some are admittedly more like variants. Sadly the CGI gets quite bad; there’s one brief attack scene featuring a group of monsters which has some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in a while. Honestly, it was embarrassing. In terms of actual terror, the film does do rather well in the first half, with the zombie scenes having a real nasty edge to them , even if we aren’t shown the actual kills much, but the horror lessens as the movie goes on and things seem to be played more and more for laughs, yet, bizarrely, get gorier. Some early scenes seem to toy with us, wanting us to wish to see the actual deaths and cheekily not following through, but later on the blood and guts, including some zombie gut-chomping, is piled on, yet in a more tongue-in-cheek way. Are Goddard and Whedon saying that humorous violence is better than ‘serious’ violence? It seems that way, but then again it’s hard to tell what they are trying to say throughout. It’s also a shame that Goddard feels the need to shoot many scenes with a ridiculous number of fast cuts and close ups; he may say he dislikes much about the current state of the genre, but time and time again employs one of its worst features [though of course this is not just in horror].
Some of the laughs are certainly funny. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford bicker amusingly as the two main people watching the screens, there’s a great gag involving a microphone, and a wonderful spoof of J-Horror will have anyone who has seen too many ghostly girls with long black hair splitting their sides. The dialogue as a whole has a smart, snappy edge to it and it is great to hear instead of the rubbish verbiage you often hear at the moment. There’s the odd arresting image too, such as a pull back to reveal hundreds of little cells, each one containing a different monster. As well as commenting on horror, the script nicely works in some barbed commentary about reality shows and audiences, and there is certainly no lack of enthusiasm. The cast all fare well; I especially liked Fran Krans as the perpetually stoned Marty; he actually looks, sounds and acts properly stoned for a change, while having some of the funniest lines in a film full of them. I wanted so much to love The Cabin In The Woods; it has been made with enthusiasm and it simply tries to give you a really good time while making you think a little. There were parts which I liked very much. It also might be the only film where you get to see a woman snog a stuffed wolf’s head. Sadly, though, the movie just doesn’t fully work and, paradoxically, seems careless and rushed, even though I doubt it actually was.