Apr 26, 2012|
(USA) Directed by Drew Goddard. Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford. Category III.
“The Cabin in the Woods” knows the horror cinema conventions as well as it subverts them. Fiendishly scary and wickedly funny, this playful meta-horror flick deconstructs the genre’s infamous stupidity and banality with high-concept wit and shocking twists. Just how twisted is it? Well, let’s just say that all the film critics around the world are biting their lip and weighing every word to avoid spoilers.
“Cloverfield” scribe Drew Goddard directs his feature debut from a screenplay co-written by him and his “Buffy the Vampire” collaborator (and fan favorite) Joss Whedon (helmer of the upcoming “The Avengers”). Made in 2009, the movie was haplessly caught in the limbo of MGM’s bankruptcy until Lionsgate picked it up for a long-delayed but hotly-anticipated release.
After a calm and baffling prelude, the film’s title sequence violently breaks in with what I consider a tribute to Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games.” And the story begins with a by-the-numbers rundown of a teen slasher film’s key elements. Five college mates pile into an RV and head to an isolated cabin in the woods for a wild weekend getaway. There is the handsome jock, Curt (Chris Hemsworth of “Thor” fame); his girlfriend, the tarty blonde Jules (Anna Hutchison); the lovable stoner-philosopher Marty (Whedon regular Fran Kranz); the nerdy nice guy Holden (Jesse Williams); and the good (quasi-) virgin, the “Final Girl,” Dana (Kristen Connolly). On their way, a grumpy old man warns them off, but his frightening words are ignored by the kids. The cabin sits eerily by a lake and—of course—has a dark basement cellar that they just have to explore. There, they find creepy objects including a dusty diary with ghastly contents that will soon bring the good-looking quintet their doom by none other than the “Zombie Redneck Torture Family” (duh). Experienced viewers can probably even predict the order of their deaths.
But if you think you know how it goes from here, think again and toughen up your nerves because the roller-coaster ride has in fact just started. In a parallel plotline, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford play two blank-faced bureaucrats in lab ropes who lead a mysterious scientific-military facility, which apparently has counterparts in Sweden and Japan (the two other well-known horror-producing countries). Thus, the movie takes an intriguing turn and where it goes next is anyone’s guess.
To give away anymore plot points will jeopardize your maximum enjoyment, because for every cheesy cliché Whedon and Goddard employs, there’s a jaw-dropping surprise that comes with it. Although in authentic horror film style, where all the characters are cardboard-thin, Connolly and Kranz stand out in the main cast. On the other hand, Jenkins and Whitford perfectly fit in their roles, getting caught in management politics and relentlessly delivering Whedon’s trademark cheeky banter.
Combining the set-up of “The Evil Dead,” the goofy humor of the “Scream” franchise and the big-brother conspiracy of “The Truman Show,” “Cabin” is both a thriller and a comedy, a gore-fest and a mind-bender, and is tremendously fun through and through. The script, despite inevitable plot holes, remains a great balance of laughs and scares, and even challenges the film’s blood-thirsty audiences to reflect on their own fascination with killing. In a cinematic cult ritual, “Cabin” performs a much needed exorcism on the worn-out genre, slashing the slashers. And if you want to see what a “merman” looks like, here is your best—and perhaps only—chance.