Dir. Drew Goddard, USA, 95 mins, rated 15
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams
[Seems an odd way to begin a film review by suggesting that you, the reader, not read it before you see the film. But it’s only fair, it’s how I saw The Cabin In The Woods, knowing next to nothing about it, even closing my eyes and sticking my fingers in my ears and going “la-la-la” when they shoved the trailer in my face at an earlier cinema trip. But if you’re curious to hear a bit more about it then come with me and I promise to keep things “spoiler-free” (which is the way all reviews should be if you ask me).]
Five college friends – athlete Curt (Hemsworth) and his girlfriend Jules (Hutchison), good girl Dana (Connolly), bookish Jesse (Williams), and stoner Marty (Kranz) – head out to the woods to stay at a cousin’s cabin. On the way they stop at a creepy gas station to fill up and receive a warning (of sorts) from the creepy tobacco-spitting proprietor. The viewer with even a passing interest in these sort of films should be feeling in familiar territory about now, and will not be surprised that when the friends pull up to the titular cabin it bears more than a passing resemblance to the cabin from the Evil Dead films, complete with stuffed animal heads and huge picture windows that always have the curtains open, even at night. Exploring the cellar the group stumbles across what looks like a huge stockpile of props from the sorts of horror films that often feature a cabin in the woods; among them a creepy music box, a creepy book full of strange incantations, and a creepy puzzle box clearly designed to avoid a lawsuit from a well-known horror franchise involving a supernatural sadist with nails in his head. Of course one of the friends reads from the book, and soon they find themselves under attack from redneck zombies and the terror begins.
Let’s rewind a bit. The first scene of the five horror movie stereotypes getting ready to go on their trip is not actually the first scene of the film. The opening scene actually introduces a couple of government geeks, Hadley and Sitterson (played by Bradley Whitford and the always watchable Richard Jenkins), as they ride an electric cart through an anonymous but clearly extensive underground bunker somewhere, preparing for an unspecified operation of international importance.
How the story of the friends in the cabin is connected to the geeks in the bunker is only the first of many revelations, and one that has already been revealed to you if you’ve seen the trailer. But fear not, because there are plenty more twists and turns where that came from. And as the film plays out, and all the familiar horror movie tropes and stereotypes are dusted off and presented for your enjoyment before being neatly (and appropriately) eviscerated, you realise you’re watching something pretty special.
The Cabin In The Woods was co-written by Drew Goddard (writer of Cloverfield) and fan-favourite Joss Whedon (creator of cult TV shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel and currently flavour of the month with The Avengers) with Goddard making his directing debut. But this pedigree is only partly responsible for the considerable buzz surrounding the film’s release. The trailer, which is best avoided until you’ve seen the film, gives a little too much away, but it’s unfair to be too harsh on the Lionsgate marketing team, whose job it is to get bums on seats. While the more enlightened viewer might be happy to go see The Cabin In The Woods knowing as little as possible about it, you can’t expect the average cinemagoer to hand over their hard-earned cash without something to go on.
Perhaps the only complaint is the way the film has been advertised as a straight horror film, when really it’s a horror–comedy, a combination that is not easy to pull off, but one that Goddard and Whedon have absolutely nailed to the floor with a rusty knife. There are scary moments, and there are bloody moments, but it’s the whip-sharp humour that really holds the film together, with Jenkins and Whitford getting most of the funniest scenes (Whitford just pips it with a running joke involving a Merman).