The Cabin In The Woods REVIEW

Fran Kranz in The Cabin In The Woods.

"Stop asking me what the damn time is, kid! Get a watch!"


Release Date: 24 September 2012
2012 | 15 | 91 minutes | £19.99 (DVD)/£24.99 (Blu-ray)
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Director: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams

Gruesome, clever and constantly surprising, The Cabin In The Woods is the best Joss Whedon film of 2012 – despite the fact that he only co-wrote and produced it (pity director and co-writer Drew Goddard, whose not-inconsiderable contribution’s been overlooked by so many) – surpassing the achievement of Avengers Assemble through dint of being a far more radical take on its genre.

It’s a film that’s difficult to describe without spoilers, despite the fact that, audaciously, you’re let in on the main secret – or at least, handed the first piece of the puzzle – in the opening scene. Suffice to say, it’s a film that both subverts and celebrates horror movie clichés. In your classic set-up, five kids – a brain, a jock, a joker, an “easy” blonde and a (comparatively) virginal “final girl” – stay in a remote cabin. Soon they’re fighting for their lives. The comfortable formula is adhered to, from the creepy old man the kids meet en route, via the outdoor sex punished with gruesome death, all the way to the heavy rock that blasts out over the end credits. The brilliance of Goddard and Whedon’s take on the material is the way it offers, in narrative form, an explanation for why that formula exists. Why the kids are so horny. Why they split up. Why they drop the weapon.

Some have assumed that because the film possesses levels of irony and self-awareness, it’s some kind of supercilious, sneery attack on horror, but that’s simply not the case. Whedon may have described it as “a loving hate letter” to the genre, but the scales are balanced in favour of affection. Indeed, this is a movie that considers the humble slasher flick to have the status of a modern-day myth; that’s arguably treating it with more respect than it deserves.

Sure, Whedon has reservations about much of the horror output of the decade or so. So while he may push the expected buttons to “keep the customers satisfied” he does so in a way that encourages the audience to question the conventions – particularly when it comes to horror’s treatment of women. But in 2012, that should surely be a given.

Debutant director Drew Goddard has a less ambivalent relationship with the genre, and you get the sense of a man who’s thrilled to be getting to play with the entire contents of the toybox on his first time in the big chair. For while this is, on one level, a really good example of a regulation teen horror – one with likeable characters you can care about and cheer on – it’s simultaneously scores of horror films compressed into one. Those in the know will appreciate its nods to the likes of Hellraiser and J-horror, but it’s accessible too. There really is something for everyone – well, all but the most humourless gorehound.

Although the film doesn’t zoom in on surgical detail, it certainly don’t stint on the blood, and as you’d expect from two Buffy writers, the script absolutely crackles with wit; it’s brimming with witty one-liners, shifts of register and gruesome sight gags of the kind you could never see in another film. It barely seems possible that the duo knocked it out in the space of just three days, sequestered in a hotel bungalow.

However, despite the way it rejuvenates fossilised tropes, this isn’t, like Scream, a film that establishes a new template others can copy – the central conceit is a card you can only play once. The Cabin In The Woods won’t prevent lesser talents from continuing to churn out second-rate slashers, but it is a refreshing holiday from a somewhat tired formula, which encourages other filmmakers to think outside the box. And despite having most impact first time around, when all its delicious reveals are fresh (if you’ve yet to watch the film, boy, we envy you) it also rewards repeat viewings, thanks to its countless details to rewind, freeze-frame and savour.

Extras:

The DVD (rated) has a very entertaining commentary by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, in which they discuss production problems and point out things they wish they’d done differently.

Making Of “We Are Not Who We Are” (27 minutes) offers plenty of on-set footage from the shooting of key scenes, while two featurettes on the effects, both physical and CGI (totalling 23 minutes) make you realise just what a staggering amount of work went into certain sequences, composited together from scores of elements, and also gives you the chance to get a better look at things that are only briefly glimpsed in the movie.

There’s also an on-set chat with Fran Kranz, who talks us through the drug paraphernalia of his stoner character (eight minutes), a tour of the cabin set in the company of Whedon (five minutes), and a post-screening Q&A with both him and Goddard (27 minutes). The Blu-ray adds a “bonus view” mode, consisting of 20 making-of snippets (generally one or two minutes in length) which can be viewed at appropriate points in the film.

Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman

For an alternate perspective, read our The Cabin In The Woods review from the theatrical release.
Read our feature about what we want to see from Joss Whedon’s SHIELD TV series.
Read our Avengers Assemble DVD review.