Directed by Johan Bodell
You’ll have seen it before: a couple on the edge of collapse visit a cabin in the arse-end of nowhere. A haven from work, distractions and mobile signal. Needless to say that in this horror, partially in the 70s exploitation mold, they don’t get the break they’re looking for. Enter a murderous psychopath named Sven (Kammerland, who also wrote it), fresh from his latest kill andwho takes an immediate dislike to our heroes. I’m not against back to basics horror. If done right, a new twist on an established formula, or a classic narrative done well, can be as rewarding as the latest word of mouth hit by an exciting up and comer. As such, I wasn’t put off by the lightweight premise of Johan Bodell’s debut feature.
However, when working with such a tried and tested template, the script’s got to be razor sharp for it stand out. Unfortunately, this is The Cabin’s greatest weakness. The main plot is formulaic: the creepy looking guy in the first half is the creepy looking stalker in the second. There are no real layers. Moreover, Harry (Page) and Rose (Crommett) are such an unappealing couple. I don’t put any of this down to the actors, who both do a commendable job with what they have to work with. Their obviously toxic relationship means it’s hard to give a darn about either of them. Her constant negativity, coupled with him being a pushover, make for repetitive dramatic scenes that’ll make you apathetic towards both. In a movie with such a narrow focus, solid characters are key – given a low body-count means we’ll be spending a lot of time with them. These ones have neither the charm nor depth for an audience to invest. Heck, it’s almost half an hour in before they finally have a scene that doesn’t escalate to hostility in seconds. There isn’t a fully realised backing story to contextualise their resentment, meaning there’s little emotional reward at the thought of them overcoming their differences. Sure, there’s some subtext about sacrifice, and what you’d do to help someone you love – though it’s as dilapidated as the rickety old cabin that’s come to define their relationship.
Our antagonist, Sven, is similarly simple, without any motivation nor enough remarkable character traits to endear him to the audience. With such unlikable protagonists, its actually quite surprising that I didn’t want him to win. At a stretch, his rubber geriatric mask is creepy – yet it’s as arbitrary as anything else in the movie, and isn’t even worn at all for the last act. None of this would necessarily matter if Bodell could get the horror scenes right, but these are mixed too. The centrepiece is a break-in, during the night, that starts with a good claustrophobic feel that soon deteriorates into a mess of close-ups of the characters’ faces. There are few over the shoulder shots, nor even medium ones, meaning for the most part our view is obscured by the leads facing us. Then, as the sequence transitions to an outdoor chase, it simply gets too dark to see what’s going on. The soundtrack doesn’t help, with repetitive bursts making it more unintentionally funny than scary. A set-piece later on is more successful, with Rose on one side of the river watching Harry sneak around on the other. Although for the bulk of the third act the characters simply feel too safe, with Sven always at least one long rowing trip away from getting one of the two of them. The longer these parts go, the more frustrating they are.
To be fair, there’s some attempt to establish Sven as a threat. The few gore scenes we get, including the opener, are relatively well handled, with an unpleasant, grizzly aesthetic. And even though he lacks an intimidating frame, Kammerland is able to give Sven enough of an unpredictable energy that you can buy him as a killer. In particular, the part where he splices up a body, over an argument sequence (possibly a dark twist on Don’t Look Now) is genuinely harrowing. Yet it also stands out as a suggestion of what the rest of the film could have been, were it treated with the same creative touch. As with the excellent setting, and accomplished performances, it hints at a better film. Sadly, it succeeds about as far as the titular cabin as a means of getting away from it all.