Monday, September 24, 2012

The Cabin In the Woods (2012) review


Kristen Connelly (Dana Polk), Chris Hemsworth (Curt), Anna Hutchison (Jules), Fran Kranz (Marty), Jesse Williams (Holden), Richard Jenkins (Richard), Bradley Whitford (Steve), Brian White (Daniel), Amy Acker (Wendy), Tim De Zarn (Mordecai)

Directed by Drew Goddard 

"I can only imagine your pain and confusion...but know this... What's happening to you is part of something bigger... something older than anything known. You've seen horrible things. An army of nightmare creatures. But they are nothing to what came before. What lies below."

The Short Version: This ferociously original homage to a host of horror classics and their cliches boldly goes where no horror flick has gone before. Goddard's movie is a bizarre 90 minute nightmare that's a gasp of fresh air within a cesspool of genre redundancy and noticeable lack of creativity. The film starts and moves along as a standard horror picture, although scenes here and there clue you in on the fact that not everything is as it seems. An Orwellian aura also adds to the darkly humorous tone the film occasionally entertains via an arcane reality show style backdrop wherein the "viewers" choose a "winner". In addition, the gore-soaked, Lovecraftian conclusion is a major highlight as are the doom-laden final moments that briefly explores some fascinating religious subtext.

Amidst a glut of sequels and remakes, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is truly a treat for horror fans and a welcome change of pace from the typical mainstream terror fare. It often feels like an extended episode of NIGHT GALLERY, but with added sex and gore. Like a great many other movies creeping up on us at the bijou, this is yet another attempt at paying tribute to pass gory glories.

However, Goddard's movie (co-scripted with BUFFY and ANGEL scribe Joss Whedon) is far more successful than so many of the Great Pretenders that attempt to forcibly make horror fans believe they're Kool because they're simultaneously winking and referencing some elder horror mainstay. It's also a film that epitomizes going into it cold without knowing too many details. The trailer subtlely gives away a detail or two, but nothing too revealing; just enough to enhance curiosity.

As much as  I disliked SCREAM (1996), it took a familiar genre style and tried to make it hip by featuring a killer(s) that used the rules of slasher films to claim their victims, while at the same time, convincing viewers that all those slasher movies were populated with nothing but stupid people who supposedly did nothing but stupid things. If anything, SCREAM was successful in reinvigorating the slasher genre for the late 1990s paving the way for such franchises like the SAW series as well as popularizing the laziest, self-centered poster design style in cinema history.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS isn't that sort of genre acknowledgement. It subverts the conventions without smacking you in the face with them. It plays with them in a self-effacing way that is both familiar and also presents said familiar territory in a way that's not been seen before. Once you realize what's going on, it's like you've been immersed in one of those 'Choose Your Own Adventure' stories; only here, it's a much bigger contingency pulling the strings and manipulating living, breathing people via a macabre Big Brother totalitarianism.

Without revealing too much, all hell literally breaks loose during the last twenty minutes following a string of surprises, shocks and strange details that will leave you scratching your head till all is explained during the final few minutes. Till then, it's a slasher-zombie ode to THE EVIL DEAD (1983) riding the coattails of what amounts to a viscera strewn love letter to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. 

The acting is fine across the board and the jokes are funny; particularly the bleak sarcasm permeating the film. The effects, many of which are practical creations, are top notch save for some dodgy CGI. The film is never quite scary enough, but David Julyan's score aids the superlatively spooky art decor especially during the sequences in the woods.

Take a long look at the poster, or gander at the holographic cover of the DVD (which reveals some of the creatures in the film) and that will give you some idea of the quirky and creepy little film you're in store for. If you played the original RESIDENT EVIL all the way through, that will also give you some insight into what this meticulously morbid movie has to offer. Abandon all expectations and try to enjoy the gruesome ride, just be wary of the consequences of taking a short cut down a dirt road, or venturing into a dark cellar.

This review is representative of the Lionsgate DVD.

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