Well I’m back from my little holiday to Sweden. Stockholm is a lovely city and it’s worth visiting Gamlastan and getting a boat ride around the Archipelago. It’s also worth going to a Swedish cinema to watch an American film presented with Swedish subtitles. An odd experience it is. Partly because usually when I see subtitles they’re in English and it’s because the film is foreign, not the other way around. It is also odd because everyone in Sweden speaks English, many better than the average Brit, so the purpose of subtitling their films seems redundant. Anyway, whilst there I saw Prometheus for a second time, in 2D (I suggest seeing it in 3D first) and I also saw the Cabin In The Woods, hence the title of this review. Click the link for my thoughts.
The Cabin In The Woods is a unique post modern take on the traditional late 70s and 80s horror. Rather than be a straight forward kids go to the woods and get murdered for their sins type of film we instead get a clever twist on the premise flips the entire idea of the genre on its head. Now this may sound like a spoiler I’m about to give you but it is not. Spoilers can’t really be anything that takes place in the first few minutes. Basically the cabin this films teenagers have headed to is controlled from behind the scenes by a organisation of regular seeming office workers that have set up the titular cabin to be a veritable Smorgasbord (Little bit of Swedish in me still I guess) of terror. There’s more to it than that but that would be spoilers. What we essentially have though is an attempt to knock the horror genre down to their core and rebuild it in front of our eyes.
If this all sounds a bit knowing and self referential then you won’t surprised to learn that this was written by Josh Whedon and Drew Goddard, both of whom had worked together on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Drew even makes his directorial début here and they way he plays with horror set ups and executions (the cinematic and the literal kind) is pretty damn impressive. It shows signs that Drew is a genuine fan of the language of horror films. Hopefully his future films will show a similar level of love for film in general. There’s genuinely quite a few moments where you’ll expect a certain scare to hit only to be left hanging. Similarly the film opens with one of the most perfectly executed jump scares in horror history. I’m not gonna tell you how it comes about but it is simultaneously effective and hilarious. Whedon on the other hand has really come along as a writer in recent years. It seems that years cutting his teeth on Buffy really helped him work out the kinks and full-blown dents in his earlier work, Toy Story as an exception of course. The script is knowing, clever and littered with his brand of humour. That said the final act is both excellent and more than a little shoddily handled. It relies a little too much on the events rather than the reasons. It is certainly a memorable finale though.
The cast is led by Kristen Connolly, who you may remember as “make out girl” in the cinematic classic that is Meet Dave. You don’t? Never mind because she manages to play the horror lead of the virginal Dana with a decent amount of presence here. She’s not gonna blow you away or anything but she’s more than capable. Plus this isn’t really the sort of film made for show stopping performances. That said Chris Hemsworth is quite entertaining as the strangely jockish bookworm Curt, a juxtaposition that is actually a plot point. The rest of the cast of victims fills out the quota of the whore, braniac and fool characters as you’d expect. The amount those characters are their real selves though is all part of the story.
This is one of those films that I’m struggling to find the right words to describe it with here. The problem is that I don’t want to ruin the sheer amount of surprise and fun that will come from your first viewing. Cabin In The Woods plays out a lot like a more accessible and mainstream version of Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, which I loved by the way. But whereas Rubber was a near surrealist musing on how we watch films Cabin In The Wood is more of a direct commentary on the language of horror films. It may present itself like any other horror but there is just as much gristle to get your teeth into as the aforementioned Rubber. It manges to pull off that tricky task of being both dumb fun and smart satire at the same time, a lot like Robocop for instance. And I’m sure you’d buy that for a dollar.
Sorry, couldn’t mention Robocop without saying that.
Overall The Cabin In The Woods is one of my most enjoyed new films of the year. I’m chucking it in my top 3 for sure and I get the feeling that as time goes by it’ll be the one that holds its ground after repeated viewing. Granted I have neither the time nor the money to see all the new releases each year but I’m putting this up there with Prometheus, The Avengers and Chronicle. At times it may feel like an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer that never made it to air but that’s more a sign of the strength of Whedon’s story telling language than anything else. I look forward to seeing this again at some point and seeing whatever Drew Goddard creates next.