Chris Hemsworth stars in The Cabin in the Woods, Joss Whedon’s ‘loving hate letter’ to horror cinema and the recent trend of ‘torture porn’.
However, this being Whedon, things are far from conventional.
To write a review for The Cabin in the Woods is fraught with problems as the film benefits greatly from knowing very little about it. Know this: you may think you’ve figured it out but you haven’t. There are other things at work here, bigger things.
Five friends, the Blonde (Anna Hutchinson), the Jock (Chris Hemsworth), the Stoner (Fran Kranz), the Academic (Jesse Williams) and the Virgin (Kristen Connolly) pack up and leave for a weekend of debauchery in a remote cabin in the woods. Things take a predictable turn for the worse as monsters stalk our posse and dispatch them one at a time. However, all is being watched by two lab technicians (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) who, for reasons that are initially unclear, have a vested interest in what is happening to our heroes.
To say this would insinuate The Cabin in the Woods is the Inception of horror, yet, unlike Nolan’s brain bending masterpiece, which quickly established no narrative trickery from the beginning, Cabin deliberately reveals enough to entice yet holds back enough to retain that critical element of mystery. The rubix cube poster is rather apt: it’s a filmic puzzle, a brain teaser that goads you into a false sense of security, before laughing in your face.
To compare it to other, more notable post-modern horror texts (Scream, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) would be obvious yet it also does the film a great disservice. In dissecting the formulaic nature of horror, the wider narrative utilises greater, more terrifying aspects of the genre to justify the use of cliché. Why are the lab boys so concerned for things to go the way they want in the woods? And why are these perfectly normal kids suddenly succumbing to slasher archetypes at the moment of crisis? Throw in a few red herrings (the creepy gas station attendant is the stand out) and you have a film that is clever without being smug and witty without being outright goofy.
Most crucially though is the film’s ability to nail the balance between horror and comedy, a feat only Sam Raimi seems to be capable of these days. Yet the jokes, of which there are plenty, do not over shadow the nastiness on screen, which at times is surprisingly visceral for the film’s 15 certificate. The tension is often nail-biting, with the final third in particular echoing something akin to a child’s ultimate nightmare. It also has to be admired for sticking to its convictions, with a climax that is as amusing as it is horrific that, much like Drag me to Hell or last year’s Insidious, refuses to cop out for a predictable, comfortable finale. It pleased this reviewer greatly.
There is not so much hidden trickery here as a deliberate and calculated move to withhold information until the last possible moment. It will throw those expecting a typical slasher film. For the rest of us, The Cabin in the Woods is an excellent, funny, chilling breath of fresh air. Only once the credits roll are you allowed to acknowledge the magnificent madness of the preceding ninety minutes.
This is a great, great film.
Best scene: The entire third act.
Look out for subtle nods to J-horror, Hellraiser, The Strangers & The Evil Dead, as well as many others.