Saturday 14 April 2012

The Cabin In The Woods

Cabin Fever

The Cabin In The Woods
USA 2009 (released 2012)
Directed by Drew Goddard
Playing at UK cinemas now

Joss Whedon wrote this movie.

Now I don’t know much about this guy, but I’ve seen the first few episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and thought the dialogue writing was pretty good. Similarly, I have seen the feature film Serenity and all the episodes of the TV show it comes from, Firefly, and loved them both. Whedon is a pretty good writer in my book... although his writing style is very specific to him which, while it’s to be applauded as the sign of a true artist, also leaves him open to being a little predictable in the way things are expressed.

It’s a common ailment of many writers, no matter what medium they are writing for (it’s especially common in novels), for all the characters to be “speaking from the same place” so to speak, rather than having their own, very different ways of expressing themselves. Usually, when the writing is filtered through a set of different actors, this helps lose that kind of familiarity with the patterns within the words... but when you have someone as genuinely outstanding as Joss Whedon... the writing tends to come through more and take you back to the fact that all the characters are written by the same person.

It’s not particularly a big problem... it doesn’t ruin the experience for me and just reminds me of the basic artifice of the events I am reading/watching. Woody Allen’s writing does exactly the same thing and, frankly, Jean-Luc Godard would approve of all this kind of “showing of the wires” which good writers sometimes inadvertently let happen... so it’s not really a big deal.

I say all this because The Cabin In The Woods is actually, despite all the hype and good word of mouth it’s been getting, quite a predictable film. I don’t think its particularly a fault of the dialogue or even the story itself... I think it’s more to do with the main premise (which is a fairly common one to horror films but dressed up in the trappings of modern technology) being quite good but fairly unwieldy. You can’t really fail to tip your hat as soon as you start drip feeding the little clues as to what’s really going on in the movie... and they do that right from the opening, pre-credits sequence. So I just want to say that if you’re going to see this movie because you want to be surprised to an extent, there’s a good chance you probably won’t be if science fiction, horror or fantasy fiction is your kind of thing.

Similarly, the trailer works against the likelihood of having a “twist ending denouement” because you know certain things about the movie from that too, but let me tell you that you won’t get the whole picture just by watching the trailer. The trailer will, however, spoil the movie to an extent for you because you’ll know from the footage included in it that one of the characters who you thought was dead isn’t. I won’t reveal that one here but if you’ve seen the trailer... you’ll know it when it happens.

And don’t worry about the poster with the three floor, Rubric’s cube style twisting layers... it’s a pretty misrepresentative advertisement for the film. Nothing like this in any way happens in the movie and the cabin, although perhaps a bit of an iceberg from a certain point of view, is a single floor cabin... so pay absolutely no attention to the poster.

The film starts unconventionally and starts giving its secrets away right from the start and, after the opening (and bizarrely “jump scare” title sound and typography), we are introduced to the kids who typically make up these kinds of “red neck slashers in the woods” tales. Although, I have to say, that there’s no really terrible character in this lot, like you would normally get in one of these kinds of movies... yeah, you know, the one you can’t wait to get killed... these five are all pretty likeable people you maybe could stand hanging out with yourself... so you will be rooting for this lot when the killing starts.

I don’t want to say too much about this movie because it’s best to go in fresh (I wish I hadn’t seen the trailer) but I will say that this is certainly a genuine horror movie as opposed to the serial-stalk-and-slash fest that some kids are calling horror movies these days... seriously guys, serial killer movies are thrillers... not horror. There are also quite a few shout outs to the history of horror in film and literature which people familiar with the genre will be happy about. It’s a very diverse and large horror net this film eventually reveals itself to be casting and, though you will figure it all out ahead of time, half the fun is seeing how the idea is executed in this one. Fans of H. P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker, to name just two, will be happy with some of the homages in this one. There’s also a beautiful little J-Horror tribute in there... and the final shot of the film almost reminded me of something Jack Kirby might have drawn back in the 70s. Postmodernistic eclecticism is definitely the order of the day on this movie.

I think, the thing to remember with this one is that it’s a fun film. It’s really not trying to take itself too seriously, as you will soon learn from Joss Whedon’s typically witty and intelligent writing... coupled with some “more than competent” film-making from the director and his crew. This is horror comedy which a lot of people will really like, I suspect, in terms of the core audience this film is aimed at. What I would say, though, is that I wished that towards the end of the movie it hadn’t suffered from the same problem that plagued the brilliant Monsters VS Aliens animated feature a few years back... in that, I wish that the producers would just have spent some money to secure the rights to some of the “characters” that pop up in this movie... rather than having to parody them and hope the audience “gets it.” Of course, the characters I’m talking about wouldn’t be cheap and the aim of these kinds of movies is to make them relatively inexpensive so the investors can see a big return on them. Horror movies with excessively large budgets are a rare commodity these days, it seems, and who can blame the producers when an 18 rated film means half your intended target audience aren’t even going to be allowed in to see the picture.

At the end of the day.... The Cabin In The Woods is quite a joyous movie but not as remarkable as many might have you believe. It is, however, a fairly fresh look to this particular kind of material (don’t want to spoil it by saying what kind of movie it really is) and horror fans, in particular, will probably have a good time with this one. I’m sure it will pull in the money and I’m sure there will be demand for a sequel... although, I don’t think even the great Joss Whedon could magic up a sequel to this one without quite an elaborate bit of writerly sleight-of-hand... would be interesting to see him write himself out of that corner.


  1. It's funny, witty, original, daring, and altogether, entertaining as hell. This movie gives me faith that Hollywood is actually willing to do something outside the box in the name of entertainment. Sadly though, within the next year we'll soon be getting Saw 400 coming to theaters. Nice review.

  2. Ha! I wouldn't say it's original myself. The underlying theme is pretty much just updated in terms of the way it's ben organized.

    It's an okay movie, though, and certainly deserves a large measure of success.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Great review!

    Josh Whedon is a fave of mine too. But I wonder,can a horror film genuinely shock anymore? You point out the ways that this film references horror touchstones, and, I'm assuming, erects signposts that say to savvy horror-lovers "we're going thisaway!" in the horror film plot line/theme. I'm not against that--modern westerns do that all the time--but I wonder if there has been a recent horror flick that doesn't do the self-referential thing and is genuinely fresh and shocking.

    The poster made me think of Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs--I really thought it was a retelling of that horrifying little tale! Glad it is horrifying in its own right!

  4. Hi there.

    Yeah, horror films can still be scary (see the REC & Paranormal Activity series) but I was referring to the fact that "serial killer in the woods" films are just not horror movies... they need something supernatural or a proper monster (none of this "human monster" stuff please).

    Without giving too much away... The Cabin In The Woods has all those elements and more... supernatural powered (and otherwise) monsters abound.

    Baba yaga? Don't know the actual myth myself but my review of the movie Baba Yaga is right here... ;-)

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment (I know how precious your time is to you at the moment... it's appreciated).