Review: The Cabin In The Woods (2011)

Director: Drew Goddard

****

The Cabin In The Woods is not a subversive homage to horror à la Scream. It’s a full-tilt middle finger to horror. Granted, horror is a genre that’s easy to mock, but TCITW rips the almighty heck out of it until it lapses into ridiculously entertaining giddiness. Every conceivable horror trope and subgenre is referenced here in some way; rictus grins at the ready, gorehounds! It’s like the biggest, bloodiest game of road bingo imaginable: spot the film and tick it off your mental list.

Even well before release, The Cabin In The Woods has gained notoriety as being so twisty and tricky as to be near-impossible to review without being spoiled. However, even the trailer could be interpreted as giving away too much (in retrospect), and it’s already known to be an attempted subversion of horror, so aren’t twists to be expected anyway? Well, yes, but TCITW just goes to extremes (and not necessarily in the gory, full-blooded sense) that you would not expect. The initial plot sees five friends (Chris Hemsworth’s jock, slutty Anna Hutchison, nerdy Jesse Williams, stoner Fran Kranz and the virginal Kristen Connolly) travel to a cabin in the woods for the weekend. Now, we know that’s the plot of Evil Dead right there, and the cabin comes complete with scary basement, dark wooded surrounds and an eerie wolf’s head mounted on the wall. To say much more would be to deprive prospective viewers of some off-kilter delights. This much can be said plot-wise: the story starts treading familiar ground, and then the initial suggestions that all is not what it seems are fully realized with delirious abandon.

Writer/director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon make two things clear from the beginning: they love horror, and they’re not happy with the repetitive tropes that have come to define it. Whedon toyed with these ideas in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but TCITW is the opportunity to break horror down to its very foundations. Why do we always end up with cardboard cutout characters acting stupidly (“Let’s split up to cover more ground!”) and inevitably getting garroted? The answer is teased in the opening, as two white-collar guys (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, both clearly having fun here) discuss the day’s work ahead of them, before one of the biggest jumps in the film appears out of nowhere (Despite reading this, it’ll still get ya!). What do these guys have to do with the teens in the cabin? Finding out is just half the fun!

As the film continues on, and some characters succumb to gory fates, the answer draws closer in a tidal wave of self-referentiality that treads the line between giddy and plain silly. The audience is laughing both at AND with The Cabin In The Woods. In any other genre, that’s be a criticism, but horror is just too daft to be taken seriously in the first place; surrendering to the chaos is a must when watching TCITW. A lack of subtlety does deny TCITW the scalpel-sharp satirical edge of Scream, but then this isn’t dissection; this is destruction with a wrecking ball, and Whedon and Goddard are having a blast swinging that ball about without a care in the world.

The first two-thirds, full of Evil Dead-alike mania and mystery, segues into a final 30 minutes of referential frenzy that will have most any horror fan in a tizzy, jammed as it is with wry asides, winks and cameos. Any film that can reference J-horror, Hellraiser and Michael Haneke in the name of parody is clearly doing something right. Though Scre4m may have got the jump on TCITW in highlighting some ideas on recent horror, TCITW lets the scares and the clichés speak for themselves, never overwhelming them with either snarky smarts or over-sincerity. The Cabin In The Woods is naturally self-aware, but comes armed with a healthy disdain for what has come before and a dark sense of humour. The best word for it is Groovy!

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