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15 April 2012

Cabin Fever


You know the characters: the good girl (Molly Ringwald Neve Campbell Kristen Connolly), the slut (Anna Hutchison), the jock (Emilio Estevez Chris Hemsworth), the brain (Anthony Michael Hall Jesse Williams) and the stoner (Judd Nelson Fran Kranz). You know the story: the five of them head off to an isolated cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun and frolics, but their holiday soon turns out to be more the stuff of nightmares than of dreams. So far, so standard. But Drew Goddard's new film Cabin in the Woods is anything but standard, and there as many twists and turns as, well, a Rubik's Cube.


Time Out London gave Cabin in the Woods a rare five-star review, explaining that the film "doesn’t so much set out to reinvigorate horror as pick it apart, analyse it, laugh at it and then blow it to smithereens just for kicks." The reviewer cites examples of films that have revolutionised the horror genre for better (Night of the Living Dead) and for worse (Scream). This put me off because Scream is one of my all-time favourite films--it is clever, it is funny, it is ironic and it is knowing, but it also works very well as a twisty, twisted thriller--although when I got to the end of the review, I realised Tom Huddleston was criticizing the sequels/spin-offs/rip-offs it spawned, which is fair enough. Time Out also says that Cabin in the Woods is "the funniest horror film since Evil Dead 2, the smartest since New Nightmare and surely one of the most breathlessly entertaining, original movies of the year." I agree with the third part and, perhaps even the second part, but I think "funniest since Evil Dead 2" is a bit of a stretch. There are laughs, sure, but not very many. Overall, though, I enjoyed the film a great deal. If you plan to watch it, I would advise you not to read the rest of this post, as although I try not to spoil too much in my reviews, it is the kind of movie where it is best to enter with as blank a slate as possible.

At the very beginning of the film, we see two guys in a generic office building getting some coffee and complaining about some technical problems they seem to be having. The title card pops up and then we cut to the ill-fated fivesome as they prepare for their trip and hit the road. An unpleasant encounter with a creepy gas station attendant doesn't put them off too much and before too long, they are diving into the lake next to the cabin, getting drunk and playing truth or dare. There's a really creepy basement with all sorts of weird shit, from music boxes, to masks, old diaries and other items that wouldn't look out of place at the Black Museum. Oh, and did I mention the two-way mirror the brain, Holden, finds behind a gruesome painting on the wall in his bedroom?

These scenes are inter-cut with scenes at the office we saw earlier and it soon becomes clear that the people in the office are able to exert some control over the cabin and its environs. They can raise the temperature to encourage the girls to get their kit off, they can release pheromones to encourage them all to get it on, and they can make Bad Things happen. It's all about free will, the office people say, and the Famous Five must make decisions that may influence their chances of survival (given how much control the office people have over the cabin crew, this is somewhat dubious, but whatever helps them sleep at night).

But to what end? Is this some kind of reality TV show? A Hunger Games-like set-up? There are elements of both, for sure, but the fact that the film was written by Goddard and Joss Whedon may provide some hints at the direction it ultimately takes. Personally, I would have preferred a more Hunger Games-esque movie but that may just be because I'm more interested in alternate realities and near futures than full-on supernatural horror. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy Cabin the Woods; I thought it was exciting and compelling and I enjoyed the game of spot-the-horror-movie-tropes: a hand grasping through the earth, characters breaking Randy's rules for surviving a horror film, and so on. Ultimately, though, the final twist seemed anti-climactic and not very surprising (again, this is mainly due to my taste in films)

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