"You can tell when a filmmaker doesn't love the genre, and doesn't
love the characters, so it becomes 'let's just show kids getting
slaughtered for no reason.' I think that that is something we bristled
against, and it certainly bothered us enough to form the seeds of this idea."
Director, Drew Goddard
This movie was completed three years ago and features the writing and producing talents of one Joss Whedon... Talk about anticipation. There are spoilers in this review (don't panic) but you won't know them when you read them because you would have had to have seen the movie to understand them. OK? That's fair, isn't it?
For years, Cabin has been held in the sticky amber of MGM's potential bankruptcy (point of trivia; bankruptcy has nothing to do with banks. Its root is in Latin and means 'broken table'). The mighty James Bond found himself stuck in the same glutinous trap. But a completed movie with this level of production value and behind-the-scenes pedigree would not be quashed indefinitely. And the wait has done the film some good. For a start, Lionsgate has picked the film up for distribution (the same company's handling The Hunger Games and there are some quite striking similarities in both movies in one of those eerie coincidences) and both film-makers have been unstinting in their praise for their new distribution partner with an emphasis on an appreciation of the marketing (check out the deliciously Rubikian poster). Certain movies may have crumbled under the sheer weight of expectation but Cabin has thrived, thanks in part to those privileged audiences that caught the movie early and have deliberately withheld its secrets. Bravo to them.
Cabin In The Woods is a horror movie inspired by the clichés of horror movies. Its principal 'star' in Hollywood element terms is Joss Whedon, geek god, Buffy and Firefly creator and all round humanist, feminist and sometime writer/director (he's made some other movie called Scavengers or something, coming out this month too). Could I have been more excited? And Whedon in partnership with Drew Goddard... The movie posters cream over his writing of Cloverfield but my reverence is – as with a lot of things – based in the Buffyverse. Conversations With Dead People was a first class Buffy highlight and despite co-writer Jane Espensen's insistence that Whedon rewrote the show, I still bow to her and Goddard's input. Let's just put it this way. I am more than thrilled to experience anything these two men could throw at me, gory, grand or glorious. And Cabin bubbles over with all three.
By Outsider standards this review will be relatively short. There are several good but one great reason for this. Forewarned is like X-raying a Lucky Dip pre-dip... Like most reviewers of this singular smart, nasty and cute little pleasure (cute, ideas-wise despite the gorgeousness of some of the fodder, ahem, cast), divulging anything is a spoiler of sorts – hence the brevity. Most of the critics (with a few notable exceptions) have kept quiet about the nature of the pleasures, shocks, twists and turns that await you in The Cabin In The Woods. This is a good and decent thing to have done. I don't know if a vast critical chorus of anti-Shyamalan cries of "He's dead!" in reviews of The Sixth Sense would have dented its huge appeal. The heartless ending reveal by one critic of Se7en who bemoaned that Gwyneth Paltrow was an unnecessary victim from a feminist point of view didn't exactly scupper the movie's success. But Cabin is a more fragile beast. If I laid down the essential plot in a cold, formal manner you may curl your lip but that would be like saying "Go and see Jaws! It's about three men who go fishing!" There's a bit more to it than a cold reading of its narrative would suggest.
Whedon (co-writer and producer) is far too smart to let Cabin be anything underwhelming. It delivers (I want to say on so many levels but even that is a spoiler of a kind) on thrills, scares, gore and humour. I left the cinema suitably shocked at the many "Boo!" and "Eurgh!" incidents but I must admit to chronic chuckling at its gleeful subversion all the way back down to the car park after the titular cabin was demolished by an... (oops, pretend I didn't say that). Both writers, Whedon and Goddard, had dared to take the horror movie clichés out for a damn good thrashing and found the temptation too great not to carry on down the same road until they reached a conclusion about which this smart and savvy pair must have asked each other "Too much?" It's way, way too much but it's all the more fun for that.
Five stereotypes (sorry...), five teenagers go on a weekend break to a relative's cabin in (where was it now?) the woods. It's worth noting that each of the five is convincing, smart and attractive. Knowing that death is about to come knocking – that's part of the deal the film-makers make with a knowing audience – weighs heavily because this isn't a bunch of idiots who have "Come and get me, Freddy!" tattooed on their foreheads. These are frightened kids and in some instances the reality of their situation is truly terrifying. After a gas stop where they encounter a tobacco spitting harbinger (one who knows what's coming), our five hapless teens end up at party central. There, they inadvertently invoke demons who try to kill them and as they are hunted down, we come to realise that they are players in a much bigger and much more important event. And plot-wise, that is all you're going to get from me.
It's clear the film-makers adore their subject matter because the subversion is nothing if not playful and affectionate. A secondary character meets his doom from a creature he's always wanted to see in action and before he succumbs, his final words are "Oh, come on!" which almost steps outside of the movie for an instant but it's always with respect. And that has to be a Whedon line... Treat yourself early because a movie like this is best served by a willing and open full house. I sensed I was surrounded by Whedonites at the screening I attended (what kind of people would see a movie like Cabin at noon? Whedonites). As we all shuffled down the steps, there was a sense of something shared in the spirit of pure, nasty fun. It won't be the same at home so get it while it's hot.