Director: Drew Goddard Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth & Anna Hutchison Synopsis: Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods. Rating: 15 Runtime: 95 minutes
I’ve had several discussions on the merits of The Cabin in the Woods, and how I believe it to be one of the best horror films, not just in recent years but possibly of all time. Mostly, I have these conversations with myself, because that way I can always win, but sometimes I do venture out of my comfort zone and try to talk to other human beings. And the one thing that I always struggle with when it comes to The Cabin in the Woods, is that I can’t really tell anyone anything about the film, which makes it an incredibly hard sell and somewhat awkward to review.
Anyone who has already seen the film will surely understand this. After the films release at the cinema I tried to convince one of my friends to go see it before it was ruined by trailers and a marketing department who are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. My friend, ever the inquisitor, asked me why it was so good, and I simply couldn’t tell him. I was in a conundrum, a catch 22 if you will. What could I say? If I made him aware of any of the films twists, it would be ruined. If I simply said, oh you just have to watch it, then he probably wouldn’t.
Take the basic concept of The Cabin in the Woods, and you have just another teen horror. Five good looking american teenagers travel into the woods to spend the weekend at a remote log cabin. They get drunk, smoke pot, have sex and then bad things begin to happen. It’s a premise that has been done a million times before, and will be repeated a million more, but not in this way, not when Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard are involved.
In interviews for this film, Whedon and Goddard discussed how they wanted to make their perfect horror film. The result is, largely, the stuff of a horror fans dreams. It makes the usual Whedonesque pop culture references, and pokes fun at the horror genre while at the same time celebrating everything that is good about it. It takes the genre’s cliches, chews them up and spits them back out in the most glorious of styles. It really is a fantastic attempt, you just can’t tell anyone who hasn’t yet seen it anything about it.
It’s a film that not so much changed the way horror films have been made since, and the idea that it would be a game changer was always somewhat of a difficult distinction for The Cabin in the Woods, or any film for that matter, to carry. What it does do, is play around with the genre. It changes the audiences expectations on what they should get out of a horror film, not only in shocks and scares, but in humour and characters. Take for example, our five good looking protagonists. Yes, they are all very good looking, even the geeky pot smoker is handsome in that way only Americans can seem to be, but they do not feel like caricatures, they feel like fully formed, intelligent characters, and more importantly they’re all damn likeable. Even the supporting cast leave their mark. With Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins doing great work as the office dwellers, who may or may not have something more sinister planned.
The humour is typical Joss Whedon. Playing on character traits, and using clever word play with a remarkable understanding of how teenagers talk to each other. While at the same the film gives us every horror cliche in the book and makes it feel fresh. It’s not something everyone can do, and takes a special talent to make something old feel like something entirely new.
Going back to the conversations I’ve had with people about The Cabin in the Woods. Someone once remarked to me that the film was “shit.” Of course I asked why, and their biggest gripe was that they thought the film wasn’t scary. I took their point, but for me, not all horror films are scary. If that is the only thing they are judges by then we can throw 99% of horror films in the bin. It may seem odd to celebrate a film that isn’t scary, but some horror films work without being scary. They survive on their other merits such as humour, guessing who gets killed next and everybody’s secret desire to see good looking people get killed.
Therefore The Cabin in the Woods does not need to be scary, because it does everything else so bloody well. And I dare anyone to watch this film and not enjoy themselves.
In summary: A game changer it was not. But The Cabin in the Woods was, and still is, an ingenious piece of filmmaking that simultaneously rips the genre to shreds, and celebrates everything that is great and good about it.