Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Visit to 'The Cabin in the Woods'

Better to say this right off the bat; offering an extended opinion on Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods runs the risk of spoiling a film that should be watched with as little prior knowledge as possible. For those who may have just seen the trailer (or, even better) just heard a few intriguing words from friends and are curious to know more, The Cabin the Woods is easily one of the most entertaining, original horror comedies produced in awhile, and I heartily recommend it. From here on out I’m going to be pretty cavalier with regard to plot matter and genre implications, offering less of a review, and more of a straight analysis - so read on at your own risk.

 The film’s initial premise is about as predictable as horror movies get; five students – each fulfilling a genre stereotype – head on out for a weekend away from school and parents in a remote woodland cabin. We’ve seen this one before – and that’s the point. The difference lies in that this cabin plays host to a specific scenario being directed by two lab technicians (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford), figures first introduced in a jocular prologue upon which the film’s marketing strategy is founded; showing the subversion of genre at work in the film, without actually stating anything.  The Cabin in the Woods wastes no time at all in revealing that Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams) and co. are being run through a controlled situation, and so the audience dynamic immediately shifts from that of thrill-seeking to detection, as we try to work out why all of this is happening.

 It’s a smart move that, on the surface, allows Goddard and Whedon to point out and play with the rote plot points that make up most lazy horror films today, whilst offering a more complex critique of contemporary horror underneath. It would be easy to see The Cabin in the Woods as the Gen Y re-tread of Scream, shifting ten years forward to focus on the video nasties of the mid eighties rather than the Slasher feature – an argument that holds strong ground given how many nods the film makes towards the likes of Evil Dead. However, given how broad a retrospective on cinematic horror the film ultimately provides (setting up a frankly awesome action set-piece along the way), there’s perhaps more to the film’s focus on the 80s than mere nostalgia. In reducing its protagonists to pawns, only to then reaffirm them as characters in the final third, the film openly yawns at the horror sequences that make up much of the Buckner sequence – a zombie torture episode, complete with sadistic dungeon, that is admittedly rather limp (and I believe intentionally so). Whedon has been very open about the fact that he feels the genre has devolved since the introduction of torture porn, and it is telling that, amongst the film’ final menagerie of movie-inspired monstrosities, the likes of SAW and Hostel are side-stepped in favour of their more inventive forefather Hellraiser, and distant cousin The Strangers. If The Cabin in the Woods merely offered the same smug commentary seen back in Scream, it would be guilty of the laziness it mocks. Instead, in picking and choosing what aspects of horror are presented – and how – the movie’s critique of the genre becomes far more pervasive.

  The Cabin in the Woods is a real breath of fresh air in the current horror climate – the fact that this is the case is more than a little worrying however, and threatens to suggest that most of the more inventive horror films these days are postmodern commentaries; not exactly a progressive, healthy situation. The likes of Wolf Creek, Let the Right One In, and Pan’s Labyrinth may prove otherwise, but they’re few and far between.