The Cabin In The Woods REVIEW

FILM REVIEW Let’s twist again, like we didn’t know what you did last summer

The cast of The Cabin In The Woods

Some people. In a cabin. In the woods.

Release Date: 13 April 2012
15 | 95 minutes
Distributor: Lionsgate
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker

The Cabin In The Woods is a bugger of a film to review. Because it’s a film where much of the initial fun comes from its twists and turns, we’re not going to give anything away beyond what you might (think you) know from the trailers, because that would ruin a lot of the fun. But even then, the trailers only give away half the brain-aching shenanigans that are going on. Even as the film opens you’ll be going, “Huh?” It throws you off balance from the opening shot and doesn’t really let up. You might think you can see where the plot’s heading, but you’re probably wrong. If anybody you know moans it’s predictable, ask them for next week’s Lotto numbers.

Doubly irritating for a reviewer, though, is the fact that any weaknesses the film does have are linked to the twisty-turniness. How do you point out what’s wrong with a film without ruining what’s right about it for other people?

So apologies if this review is vague. And if you truly are worried we might give away spoilers accidentally then don’t read beyond this paragraph, where we’ll just say: it’s a massively entertaining, awesomely inventive twist on the traditional “teenage kids go to a spooky house in the woods” genre that falters in the final reel, when things get too bizarrely excessive and the budget can’t quite keep up with the ideas.

Right? Ready to venture further? We’ll try not to give too much away.

The Cabin In The Woods is, for the majority of its running time, one of the cleverest and most constantly watchable horror films ever. In sculpting their script, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) prove that the best way to break the rules is to know how to play by them first. Much has been made of how Cabin is a reaction against the atrophying “teens get picked off one-by-one” conveyor belt of modern horror movies, but at the same time, it also shows how much the duo know their onions.

There are some gorgeous references to horror tropes, some subtle, some laugh-out-loud funny. They even manage to work in an entirely unexpected – and yet ruthlessly within plot-logic – element of J-horror that’s almost worth a film in itself.

But this is not mere parody; this is an attempt to truly shake up the genre. And for a long time it works. Sublimely. It’s funny, it’s scary, it’s shocking, it’s surprising and (are you ready for this?) you actually care about the teens. Hell, you might even be able to name them in the pub afterwards. The film plays with expectations, but it plays with them like a cat teasing a mouse, not a dog with a squeaky toy.

The dialogue is very Buffy – there’s no denying that. You could accuse us of saying that purely because we know who’s behind those words, but believe us, even if we weren’t aware of the Whedon influence, we’d be referencing the show. This will annoy some people. Not sure why, but what passes for sly wit for most of us seems to wind other people up immeasurably. So be warned. To be honest, you could hardly ever call Whedon dialogue “naturalistic”… but who wants naturalism from teens? 90 minutes of incoherent grunting wouldn’t be a great use of screen time.

As you may have guessed from the pre-publicity, there’s something going on “behind the scenes” in this movie (though you’ll never guess to what extent). It’s these scenes that give the film its unique, warped feel, trading on the creepiness of mundanity as a bunch of people with a momentous secret treat their duties like a day at the office.

There are numerous gear changes, revelations and plotting sleights of hand, all of which work, all of which pull you onwards, desperate to know more until…

It all gets too big and too bizarre. And it does get very big. You’ll probably get to a moment in the film and think, “Oh yeah, this is big. This must be what SFX was on about. Actually, I’m loving it.” But we don’t mean that bit. We loved that too. And the next time it got bigger. That was crazy, bats-arse fun. And maybe the time after that… But the time after that? Sorry we were losing it a bit by then. The plot had stopped making any sense and the stakes had risen to the point where it was really difficult to care about the characters any more. It doesn’t help that the low budget occasionally can’t quite match the ambition of the writers’ imaginations… though having said that, there are some quite extraordinary and memorable images on offer.

It’s a shame, because so much of The Cabin In The Woods is so clever that the ending almost seems too prosaic; it has to happen because there’s nowhere left to go except planet ludicrous. And that might be audacious, but it somehow cheapens the rest of the film.

But don’t let that put you off. This is four-fifths of a brilliant movie, and it’s the build-up to the climax that will linger in your memory – the sheer balls-out scary craziness of it – rather than the climax itself. Invent your own ending.

Dave Golder

Read our interview with Joss Whedon about his heroes and inspirations.

Watch the Cabin In The Woods trailer.

Read more of our film reviews.