Friday, October 19, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 18: The Cabin in the Woods

It happens, from time to time, that a film comes along that fits into a genre and simultaneously challenges the accepted wisdom of that genre. In so doing, not only does such a film provide an insight and analysis into the make up of the type of film it presents itself as, but it also makes it really fucking difficult for people like me (smart arses) to review! The Cabin in the Woods is such a film.

The story told in The Cabin in the Woods is impossible to review without giving away some of the details that honestly, if you haven't seen it, you would be better off not knowing until you do. Even watching the trailer gives hints of things that might start you off trying to guess what's going on in the film before you see it (that was definately the case with me, anyway), so I need to mix things up a bit here, firstly by starting at the end:

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Cabin in the Woods.

The Cabin in the Woods is an excellent, excellent film. If you haven't seen it then stop reading and go find a copy as soon as you can, but trust me, it's brilliant!

If you haven't seen it but plan on reading ahead like that little prick in school who reads ahead a bit so that it looks like they know all the answers and appear smarter then they really are (i.e. me) then be warned:


The following review contains spoilers
If you wish to remain in the dark then stop reading

Please go see this film as soon as you can
Then come back and read the review!

The Cabin in the Woods starts off with two engineer types making small talk as they get ready to work over a weekend. Exactly what it is they do is not clear but they seem to work for a large corporation or public utility like the electricity company and they talk and act like they are just cogs in a very large wheel.

That same weekend some college students are getting ready to head away for a camping trip. There are five young 'uns made up of the sort of characters you find in every horror film; there's the jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the booky lad Holden (Jesse Williams), the stoner Marty (Fran Kranz), the slutty girl Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and the unattached kinda booky ordinary girl next door but still attractive one Dana (Kristen Connelly). Curt and Jules are a couple and they are trying to hook their friend Holden up with Dana, while Marty is a friend but is really just along for comic relief purposes. They are travelling in a camper van up the mountains to stay in Curt's cousin's new place, the titular cabin in the woods.

En route they stop for petrol and directions and run into a cantankerous old bastard in charge of the last filling station for miles. He is a right prick and is incredibly rude to them, singling out Jules for some abuse as he calls her a whore to her face and in front of her boyfriend, who shows huge restraint and just gets the gang back on the road as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, the two engineers are working away, continuing preparations for their work. This includes getting staff from other departments in their organisation to visit them in the control room where they work and place unusual bets. Once they're ready, they get down to doing whatever the hell it is they do.

The kids arrive at the cabin and settle in, picking out rooms and such. Dana settles into her room by unpacking and starting to get changed. At the same time in an adjoining room, Holden discovers a two-way mirror hidden behind a rather gruesome picture, that allows him to see into Dana's room. Before she reveals too much of herself, Holden does the decent thing and lets her know he can see her. In a further act of chivalry he swaps rooms with her so she needn't feel uncomfortable.

The fact that Holden and Dana have swapped rooms is something the two engineers make note of and it becomes apparent that they are monitoring everything that's going on in the cabin. They even receive a bizarre phone call from the old fucker at the petrol station telling them about the kids.

That night, as the group set about making merry, they discover a cellar beneath the cabin that contains a vast assortment of old items. Among the collection is a diary of a young girl who once lived in the cabin and was subjected to severe abuse at the hands of her deeply religious and extreme red in the neck family, the Buckners. As Dana reads aloud from the diary she inadvertantly summons the zombified remains of the Buckners who approach the cabin, while two engineers in a control room watch with interest...

Dana and Marty enjoy a nice relaxing weekend away

The Cabin in the Woods is an example of a perfect horror film! Everything, absolutely everything, is just excellent in this film. The story, the characters, and even the effects are spot on. This is one of those rare times when the film exceeded the hype by a long way.

The twisted version of the classic "teenagers in a remote cabin attacked by something scary" story that's presented in Cabin is utter genius with the reasoning behind the organisation that orchestrates the whole thing giving the film a grand scope and purpose that far exceeds anything else in its class. The final third of the film, where the big reveal takes place, is so extreme and yet so compelling that I found myself thinking about it long after the film was over. There are several scenes and pieces of dialogue that just stuck in my head and I found myself nicely disturbed by some of the content, though not because it was bloody or gory (which it is) but because the ideas presented are just horrific.

Humour is used extensively throughout The Cabin in the Woods and at times it feels almost like a comedy. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as the two engineers are at the heart of most of the funny sections and they play their parts well. I've been a long-time fan of Whitford's ever since The West Wing and it was a delight to see him do so well in such a good film. The way he meets his fate is exquisite not just as a plotline but as an amazing special effect and fine piece of comedy! The humour is rampant but Cabin is firmly a horror film and there are scenes that are absolutely not for the squimish with visuals and sound effects that will make you squirm.

One thing does give me pause about The Cabin in the Woods, and that's the writer Drew Goddard. He was the man who wrote the creature feature Cloverfield and as people who know me know, I had a bit of a rough time with that movie and I am now deeply concerned that the same thing might be happening again. I saw Cloverfield in the cinema and I loved it. I mean I LOVED it! I went mad for that movie and thought it was one of the best things I'd ever seen. When it came out on DVD I bought it the day it was released, that's how much I loved it. Imagine how utterly crushed I was when I brought the DVD home, sat down to watch it, and realised half way through that it was shite. As a once off, Cloverfield was awesome, but once you knew how it ended you could never enjoy the film in the same way again. Cloverfield was no Usual Suspects, there was no compelling plot that was made the better for knowing the ending; there was never going to be a reason to watch Cloverfield over and over again and love it more each time. Cloverfield was shit. I hope and pray that The Cabin in the Woods is better the next time I see it because right now, to me, it's high concept horror at it's best.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Cabin in the Woods.

Some Links in the Woods:
Official Site:

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