The Cabin in the Woods review

The Cabin in the Woods is quite a hard film to review. From Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, it’s the kind of horror film that attempts to show up the big boys by having some kind of surprise stuffed down its pants, and talking about it would only ruin what’s in store. So the less you know, the more you’ll end up saying ‘What the f…’

The simplistic set-up has five friends deciding to take a trip to a secluded cabin in the woods. There’s the athletic jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), dumb blonde Jules (Anna Hutchison), the intelligent Holden (Jesse Williams), bong-smoking Marty (Fran Kranz) and shy girl Dana (Kristen Connolly). Upon arriving at the cabin they unpack and begin to get the party started, but slowly realise that things aren’t quite right. After searching the cellar they soon discover that something is out there, trying to kill them.

Shot in 2009, MGM’s financial woes meant that the film was unfortunately left on the shelf. Thankfully a saviour arrived in the form of Lionsgate, who picked it up for distribution. God bless Lionsgate. Even if it is three years old, some of the ideas here are so fresh that it’s like splashing a new coat of Dulux over a worn out amusement ride and announcing, ‘Look, it works!’ In fact, it might even be enough to send a shiver of concern to those working on that Evil Dead remake.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll gather that there’s much more going on here than just a cabin in the woods. The purposely-bland title and stereotypical lead characters are all in place to fool the audience into a false sense of conventional horror, playing on what we’ve learnt from similar scenarios featured in The Evil Dead, Friday the 13th and Cabin Fever. With a knowingness to horror motifs and clichés, for the most part it manages to stay within conventional horror rules too, as one character even says out loud, “The virgin’s death is optional.” The latter half is where rules no longer apply and everything becomes unpredictable.

When the finished film was stuck in limbo, the script by Goddard and Whedon eventually became heavily requested after it turned up online. Having scripted many a TV episode, first time director Goddard manages to get a lot right in his feature film debut. Having Whedon on board as co-writer and producer certainly helps. Unfortunately highlighting the specifics of certain scenes would be considered a spoiler, so let’s just say that once the curtain is pulled back it is done brilliantly, as is a spot of suffering amid a celebration. There are some fun references to Japanese horror and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser thrown in there as well. However, if you think too hard you will start to uncover some holes.

The acting is generally by the numbers. Humour often lingers longer than anything else and given that Whedon and Goddard have blessed Kranz with the best lines (“Do not read the Latin!”) the film is largely his playground. As well as Kranz, there are a few Whedon regulars in small but welcome roles, such as Amy Acker, and keep an eye out for Tom Lenk.

Unlike most slashers of this type, what The Cabin in the Woods has going for it is mystery and intrigue. On the whole, this aspect of the film seems to be well balanced alongside the scares and gruesome fatalities. Yet as we’re drip fed more information, the little clues that are offered to us turn out to be far more interesting.

There are a few decent scares, but they probably won’t bring about the purchase of a new bed mattress. Some of them are signposted by deathly moments of silence, or by having the camera focus on what appears to be nothing, knowing full well that the screen will be filled by something. Although these scenes make it easier to spot when the jumpy moments will occur, this still didn’t stop the weak-nerved audience I was watching with from screaming their lungs out. There is an ample amount of gore too. Expectedly the camera does shy away during the more extreme moments, but I was surprised with some of the stuff that managed to make it inside of a 15 certificate; notably a blink and you’ll (probably want to) miss it moment of intestines.

As the film progresses, when the realisation kicks in for us (and the characters) it proves to be a masterstroke, yet the reasoning will likely divide audiences. The conclusion is so insanely crazy that it feels like it’s been taken from an entirely different film only to be tacked on here. Although it struggles to work with everything that has gone before it, I will say that it manages to be as bold as it is senseless. Probably done to keep it self-contained, though I can see the potential for a prequel on the horizon. So while I tip my hat off to the film for having the gargantuan-sized balls to end the way it does, I must also pull an Acme self-destruct button out of it.

While it’s not quite the defibrillating blood shake for horror, The Cabin in the Woods is a welcome spot of surgery that scrutinises the genre and has a hell of a lot of fun with it. The result is a thrilling ride, loaded with enough ideas to heighten interest and scare the competition.


The Cabin in the Woods opens on April 13th

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