– Summary –
Director : Drew Goddard
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian J White, Amy Acker.
Approx Running Time : 95 Minutes
Synopsis: Five teens travel into the woods to stay in an isolated cabin, unknowingly walking into the worst night of their lives.
What we think : I tip my hat to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who’ve woven one of the most unique, inspired works of fiction to make it to the big screen in a long, long time. Essentially the Ultimate Horror Film, as well as tapping a bunch of other film genres, Cabin is terrific entertainment in nearly every way. As the plot unravels, as the mystery becomes more clear, the stakes go up, up, up; this is funny, horrifying, frightening and scary, all at the same time.
This is one f*cked up cabin in the woods.
If you’ve ever seen a teen horror film, a slasher movie, and you often ask yourself why the kids in them act like imbeciles when the lights go out and the blood starts to run, then Cabin In The Woods answers at least three of those questions. Part horror film, part homage to horror films, The Cabin In The Woods is more than your typical blood-and-guts titillation-teen romp; this is a gleeful party inside the demented minds of Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity, The Avengers) and Drew Goddard (writer on Cloverfield, Alias, Angel and Lost), both of whom are obvious fans of the genre. The premise is as simple as ever – stick a bunch of hormonal, horny kids inside an isolated cabin deep in an isolated part of the world, say, Canada, and wait til the spooky shit goes down. It doesn’t take long for that to happen here, let me give you the big tip. For those of you who aren’t fans of horror, gore and blood, is there anything in this film for you? Is there a reason other than gratuitous titties and self-referential genre in-jokes to keep you interested?
Very minor plot spoilers ahead: I’m going to keep this simple, because revealing too much about the plot of Cabin would rob first-time viewers of the joy of discovery. Here’s the gist: five teens head away from the city and into the Canadian wilderness, to spend the weekend at an isolated log cabin. You’ve got your jock (Chris Hemsworth), the slutty one (New Zealand actress Anna Hutchinson), the hot black dude (Jesse Williams), the stoner (Fran Kranz) and the innocent girl (Kristen Connolly); throw them all into this deserted locale and shut off the lights. Add in some zombies and you have a thrill-ride ready to go. Elsewhere, two technicians watch the actions of the five teens from a room filled with monitors; Gary (Richard Jenkins) and Steve (Bradley Whitford) obviously hate their job, but are resigned to its success and treat it as something of a game. The two narratives are linked…. but I’m not gonna tell you how. Those who’ve seen this film will appreciate my reluctance to avoid spoiling it more than I already have.
Suffice to say, Cabin isn’t your typical horror film. There’s some great scares as there should be in a decent genre picture like this, but the film’s twists and turns eventually turn what was a satisfying slasher/zombie/gore film into a… well, let’s just say that plot deviation in From Dusk Til Dawn look like a mild narrative speed bump compared to this. Drew Goddard makes his feature debut here, and he delivers one of the cleverest sub-genre films I’ve seen in quite some time. Cabin feels cohesive, as if all the parts are meant to be together, but the film seems – at least initially – so disjointed and unreasonably contorted that you start to wonder whether it’s going to work. When it clicks, though, it clicks hard. Tinges of Whedon-esque humor are sprinkled throughout this sharply written script, including the usually groan-inducing behavior of the randy drunk duo who scamper off for a sex romp where they think they’re alone (hint, they aren’t, duh) that actually seems legitimately conceived. Indeed, there are significant plot devices used in this film to explain a whole lot of horror-film cliches (yes, sure, let’s split up in the dark and go exploring with no lights to locate the source of that scary sound we just heard) and when you realize what’s going on, you start to wonder if every other horror film you’ve seen is as well constructed as this one. It’s a “let’s peek behind the scenes” kinda deal, if that makes sense. Probably not, though.
At just a smidge over 90 minutes, Cabin manages to explore a lot of material in its brief running time. Character aren’t that developed (because most of them are going to die anyway) but service the plot well enough, but hey it’s a horror film so what do you expect? The visual effects, especially towards the frantic climax which reveals the major plot and expands the storyline outwards greatly, range from pretty darn spooky to… well, really darn spooky. Less is more at times in this one, and Goddard gets the genre so well he feels like an old hand at directing it. Jump moments come and go, expected boobage and violence pass without real disinterest, and the story really powers along with speed and ferocity. The audience aren’t treated like imbeciles, either, because it’s up to us to fill in a lot of the blanks ourselves – if we can. Often, exposition can dull a great film down, numbing the viewer with explanatory dialogue that halts momentum and pulls at attention, yet Cabin finds a happy medium whereby this can occur and not stop the film altogether.
I realize I’m being deliberately obscure with this review, but I’m doing this in order not to spoil the major plot points in any way. Let’s just say that Cabin In The Woods redefines the horror film homage, is smartly written and above-average acted, although for a horror movie that’s not saying much. Big props from me go to Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who produce the closest thing to emotional performances (even under their scripted bluster) in the film, and they really add character weight to the alternative narrative arc. Cabin In The Woods is a very well made film. There’s not an ounce of fat on this thing, not one element I’d want removed, not one line that doesn’t bring something to the film overall, and I guess we can lay the blame for that (ha!) at the feet of Joss and Drew themselves. You’d think it might be a bit too-clever-by-half, but you’d be wrong. Cabin’s self referential flavorings leave something for genre fans to enjoy, while non-horror fans can take solace in the fact that there’s more to this one than just a simple horror film.
A summation: do yourself a favor and seek this one out. If you have already, recommend this review to somebody who hasn’t. If you haven’t, take this recommendation and give it a shot. Hide under the blankets on the couch, grab some popcorn, some easily scared friends, and crank it up loud. This is one Cabin you’ll be glad you visited.