"The Cabin in the Woods" (2012)
I’ve been racking my brains, but for the life of me I can’t think of any TV series or film that Joss Whedon has made that wasn’t brilliant. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer film doesn’t count, since he was so ignored in the making of it and so dissatisfied with the end result that he went on to make the TV show. So with that sort of track record, I went into The Cabin in the Woods this afternoon feeling a little nervous.
Understand, I went into the cinema knowing only two things: that it was produced by Whedon, and that it was a horror film. Which wasn’t really a lot. I’ve since looked up the trailer, and seen after the film it does an incredible job of walking the tightrope between making the film look interesting and not revealing the twists that make it excellent.
Because it is excellent.
It operates on two levels. The first is the classic horror film: college students spending a weekend at a remote cabin in the woods, where they are set upon by various nasties. It has all the tropes of horror, even down to the roles of the characters: the dumb girl; the alpha male; the brainy good guy; the innocent good girl; and the drugged out waster.
But the second level is where it’s at: the reasoning behind everything that’s happening. It adds a witty, sardonic sense of humour and a satirical edge. It pushes the boundaries and makes old ground new again, taking old ideas and making them new in a simple yet ingenious way that most films would never think of.
The cast is well picked, with the hapless victims perfectly attuned to their roles, from Chris Hemsworth’s classic jock, to a fantastically funny Franz Kranz (having lost none of his goofy charm from Whedon’s Dollhouse series) as the stoner. In fact, Whedon keeps to a bit of a theme, with Dollhouse‘s Amy Acker featuring as a supporting character, and Tom Lenk (Buffy‘s Andrew Wells) with a bit part.
But this is more than just a fan piece (though it will certainly delight Whedon’s devotees). There’s some great storytelling here, and in the subtext a lot of very skilful genre deconstruction. It will appeal to the casual horror fan, and give plenty for us genre anoraks to think on afterwards.
I think some viewers might not be enamoured with the ending, but for me it was perfect. As the climax drew close I was wondering how they would avoid writing (telling?) themselves into a corner, and it was a delight to see a conclusion without an unfulfilling deus ex machina.
On the whole, I would heartily recommend this to everyone. Going in with no preconceptions, I came out thoroughly entertained and having had a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a half. Go, see it. I wouldn’t usually say anything like this, but it’s probably the best horror film you’ll see all year.