Thursday, April 12, 2012

If you go down to The Cabin in the Woods you're sure of lots of big surprises!

Got to watch The Cabin in the Woods last night and, even with the three year wait (thank you MGM) and the rave reviews it still managed to live up to my expectations and then some. If you can imagine The Evil Dead, HP Lovecraft, Scooby Doo, James Bond, The Truman Show, Cube and every slasher movie you've ever seen put in a blender and amped up to 11, this would be that movie. Or to put it another way, it plays likes an R rated version of the very best Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes (yes, that is high praise). What Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have crafted is a love letter to horror movies and is very special indeed. There will be some spoilers in this review and, since this is movie that works best if you know as little about it as possible then proceed with caution.
The movie opens with a low key but amusing scene of two middle-aged guys (the brilliant Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) on a typical day at a mysterious office. How this ties in with the five young people we next meet as they prepare to go to a party at a cabin in the woods is revealed surprisingly earlier (and was also hinted at in the trailer). The actors all do a good job playing the deliberately stereotypical characters. There's Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, as the "Athlete", Anna Hutchison as the "Whore", the adorable Kristen Connolly as the "Virgin" (horror fans will recognise her as the final girl archetype); Jesse Williams as the "Scholar" and Fran Kranz (Dollhouse) as the "Fool". Kranz is especially entertaining. Despite being a paranoid pothead, he acts as the audience viewpoint since he is the one least affected by the mind-altering machinations of the organisation below them.
The nicely orchestrated kills (including a heroic attempt to escape by jumping a bike over a ravine that's made even funnier because we know exactly what is going to happen to the character in question) are intercut with the operations down below, where the bored workers bet on what monster the kids will raise to hunt them (zombie redneck mutilation family are the winners) and watch similar scenarios being carried out around the world (the spoof of Japanese horror is a good one). Buffyverse fans will also enjoy watching Amy Acker and Tom Lenk in small but significant roles.
Yes, this is a horror comedy, with plenty of laugh out loud moments, but like the best ones (An American Werewolf in London, Shaun of the Dead) it's not afraid to put its characters in real peril and have some genuinely horrific imagery. When the survivors escape the cabin and descend into the installation the film literally reaches a new level and to say any more about the plot would be wrong. Suffice it to say, every horrifying creature that has haunted moviegoers' nightmares is represented here. My personal favourite images are the merman, a Hellraiser-like demon and even a unicorn! Yes, you read that right.
The ending is about as epic as horror film can get and teeters on the edge of outright farce without quite going over it (including a surprise cameo late in the game). The ending I think will split viewers, but the final image is unforgettable.
I hope this movie will be a big success since everyone involved has clearly given it their all. Goddard directs like a pro in his feature debut and I can't wait to see what he does next, with or without Whedon. The only thing that might hurt its chances is that horror audiences are notoriously intolerant of laughs in their movies. Extremely entertaining as the movie is, it's more a commentary on horror films than a bona fide scary movie. Whedon and Goddard manage to both gently mock the genre and its fans while explaining why we, as a society, need horror movies. It gives a scientific explanation for all the horror movie cliches, including why characters in them are so suicidally stupid. It's easy to imagine the puppeteers in this movie existing in any number of classic horror films, pulling the strings behind the scenes. It may not be the greatest horror movie ever made. But if it was the last one ever, it wouldn't be a bad note to end on.