The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
April 14, 2012 2 Comments
With plans to escape the so-called grid, a group of five college friends – Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams) – set out for a relative’s remote cabin in the woods, just past the hick-run gas station and far out of range of the nearest cell phone signal. When they happen upon a basement full of bizarre artefacts during a game of Truth or Dare – a gruesome diary, a collection of broken dolls, a puzzlesome sphere and a few reels of film – they unwittingly unleash a supernatural force that could be their undoing. As an outside influence finally reveals itself, however, this particular threat quickly becomes the least of their problems.
It’s been somewhat of a dry spell for your brown-coated Whedonite, what with Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse having been cancelled after its second season and this, the latest project to bear his name (though unfortunately not the Mutant Enemy logo with which his work has become synonymous), embroiled in MGM’s recent bankruptcy. After a slew of unfulfilled release dates, however, this cabin has finally made it out of the woods, ushered into cinemas a full eighteen months later than originally planned by surrogate studio Lionsgate Entertainment. With The Avengers also scheduled for release this year – this month, in fact – it looks like Whedon is finally back on the map in a big way. He at least is worthy of global positioning.
The Cabin In The Woods‘ intent is clear, exhibiting as it does a similar M.O. to Whedon’s previous projects Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: subvert and enjoy. While the Buffyverse sought to deconstruct the genre’s predilection for dumb blondes and scary monsters by giving its heroine a scythe and her opponent a soul, The Cabin In The Woods – which he co-wrote and produced, leaving alumni Drew Goddard to direct – takes the remaining archetypes and works backwards from there. That said, each aforementioned project shares a common ancestor, one that is slowly making a comeback through the reboot culture currently consuming Hollywood.
With a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth leading a cast of unknowns, Whedon-regulars and one particularly inspired cameo, The Cabin In The Woods plays to stereotype as it endeavours to both homage and have at the horror genre in near-equal measure. With a tip of the scalp to the likes of Hellraiser, Ringu and – perhaps most obviously – Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, The Cabin In The Woods is to the genre in general what Scream once was to its slasher constituent. In a departure from the norm, however, Whedon and Goddard have written characters that you genuinely care about, dialogue that is the equal to any that they have scripted before and a set-up that nicely encapsulates the creative intent behind all of their previous collaborations.
Split over two ensembles, each working independently but in unison, the sizeable cast revel in the screenplay’s ingenuity, wit and social commentary. With Hutchison, Hemsworth, Williams, Kranz and Connolly eventually conforming to the whore, athlete, scholar, fool and virgin (ish) archetypes with which we are all thoroughly familiar, it is the indomitable pairing of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who shoulder most of the meta-analysis, their unique vantage-point allowing them to take the subversion further than Wes Craven ever could from Scream‘s place within the system. Unexpectedly opening the movie as a pair of overworked middlemen trading banalities, both men capitalise on the novel and expectation-defying nature of their roles, with Amy Acker and Tom Lenk in tow as their various co-workers.
As much as it might subvert, deconstruct or simply celebrate the genre, The Cabin In The Woods is primarily designed to entertain, a priority evidenced in the film’s final act, which sidesteps satire in favour of shocks and schlock. However much fun you might have with the film’s body, it is in this gloriously extended epilogue that the film really hits its stride. From twist to twist, Goddard doesn’t pull the rug out from beneath you so much as point out that it was never there in the first place. While some reviews have criticised the final endgame, a conclusion which many deem a step too far, anyone familiar with the duo’s previous collaborations will appreciate the natural progression and signature flourish that the final twist signifies.
While the film has admittedly little to say on the subject of contemporary horror (shout-outs to Saw and Paranormal Activity are conspicuously absent, while the camera pan that introduces our protagonists could be straight out of 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer), preferring instead to revisit (and revise) the monster-of-the-week format on which Buffy and Angel thrived, The Cabin In The Woods nevertheless marks a timely and ruthlessly entertaining meditation on the current horror landscape. Roll on The Avengers.