Horror Comedy – Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. Directed by Drew Goddard (2011)
Five friends – Dana, Marty, Curt, Jules and Holden – head off to a remote cabin in the woods where they plan to spend the weekend hanging out, drinking and playing truth or dare. Unaware that their every move is under surveillance by some mysterious technicians, the friends are manipulated into playing a deadly game, one where they unwittingly choose their own fates.
The whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool and the virgin – staple characters of many a teen torture porn movie. Add in a remote cabin in the woods that looks like its last resident was Bruce Campell and his evil and rather dead friends, and you have the perfect ingredients for the banal don’t-go-into-the-forest style slasher fun and games that we have all seen countless times. Only The Cabin in the Woods is different. Very different. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, the movie is a comment on what Whedon sees as the devolvement of the horror genre into the same old torture porn movies with dumb kids making even dumber decisions. The Cabin in the Woods plays with slasher/horror conventions, stereotypes and audience expectations by referencing movies such as The Evil Dead, Wrong Turn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hellraiser, My Little Eye and many more, to set up a familiar premise, and one that leads, yes, down a path into the deep dark woods, but with a wholly original tangent that sees the fate of the world hanging on the deaths of the five young friends.
When the cellar door flies open, Dana (Kristen Connolly) is dared by the others to go down and investigate. Soon, all five friends are down there. Unaware that they are being exploited, the college kids can’t resist checking out the various artefacts that they find in the cellar, despite Marty (Fran Kranz) warning that they should go. Up to this point, they have had the option to leave, and, as technicians Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) explain, ‘if they don’t transgress … they can’t be punished’, but dumbed down by secretly administered drugs (that also mould their personalities into the slasher movie stereotypes), they just can’t help themselves, and Dana awakes one of any number of nightmares that could have been called up to pray on them.
This movie might not challenge its audience, and to be honest it’s low on scares, but it certainly makes up for this with high levels of pure, indulgent fun. The pace, once the college kids get past the archetypal creepy gas attendant (played by Tim De Zarn) and arrive at the cabin, is steady and there is plenty of gore and violence. But it is comedy that sells this movie. With Joss Whedon’s trademark slick, effortless humour, forged from the likes of Buffy and Firefly, The Cabin in the Woods is full of the sort of likeable and quirky characters that can drive a movie swiftly past any flaws or weaknesses. For me the stand outs are the technicians, Sitterson and Hedley, who use witty banter in order to cope with their morbid jobs, and the endearing Dana and Marty who I couldn’t help rooting for.
The Cabin in the Woods is good entertainment from start to finish. With its lack of depth and its tendency to go a bit over the top, I can understand people not getting into it. And, in fact, it could easily have been a disaster had it taken itself seriously, but it doesn’t. It forms a balance between black comedy and the de-construction of an over saturated genre, and presents a dichotomy between the predicable and the innovative. Endings can be tricky but The Cabin in the Woods manages to round off an adventurous 95 minutes with satisfying style. It probably won’t stay with you after the end credits but it is worth a watch.
4 out of 5
By Lisa Richardson