Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Image: Lionsgate

Reviewing this film is going to be difficult. It comes, you see, with a gagging request/order from producer, co-writer and geek lord Joss Whedon. I think the line is that he wants the story to stay a surprise. If one were being cynical it could be suggested that he fears what will happen to the audience sizes if people know beforehand what it’s all about. Not wanting to test the patience of King Joss, though, after airing our opinions on The Avengers, I am going to acquiesce and try to give away as little as possible. Here goes…
Five young things go to the titular cabin in the woods for a good time. Horrible stuff happens to them. Meanwhile, two white collar guys, a security guard and a sexy scientist are involved in something which sounds a bit ominous. What is the connection between the two?
This film is being described as having “twists”. I take issue with this. For me, though perhaps not for everyone, a twist is something which pulls a rug out from under the feet of the audience, some diversion from a pre-supposed course of events. If you accept my view, then this film is completely twist-less. Much of the game is given away far too early, so we know this isn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill slasher flick. Any subsequent plot development is therefore not challenging our expectations in any way. There are turns, certainly, and some of them are pretty magnificent, but the structure of the piece means that none of them really pack a narrative punch.

I am going to try and give an idea of the tone of this film in as opaque a way as possible. If I were using thematic examples from Joss’s oeuvre I could say that it has a lot of Dollhouse throughout, a fair splurge of Angel later on, and far from enough Buffy or Firefly anywhere. I can also say that, despite some post-screening claims, it is certainly no Scream. Wes Craven’s 90s masterpiece was a film which fully understood its genre and the expectations of the audience, and played with them accordingly. The Cabin in the Woods is far too uneven in tone to have the same appeal. As a horror film it just isn’t very scary, and director Drew Goddard doesn’t bring enough visual verve to the piece early on, though it picks up later. I don’t know how much of the script came from Whedon and how much from Goddard, but it certainly lacks the zing we have come to expect from Whedon’s dialogue.
On the plus side there are some fun performances, with Chris Hemsworth continuing to impress and Bradley Whitford and Amy Acker getting to repeat their television personas, from The West Wing and Angel respectively, to good effect. There are appearances from a couple of people who will make both horror and Whedon fans very happy.  We get some nice visual and thematic nods to other films which you might not expect, with one sequence echoing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Cube within seconds of each other, which is certainly something one doesn’t see very often. It is a massive mishmash of madness, but that doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy it for what it is.
Far from Whedon’s best, with too much going on and not enough focus on tight plotting or suspense. It is a fun watch, though, and the cast were clearly having a blast – we predict that this will become far more enjoyable with the addition of a gang of friends and a lot of alcohol.

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