15 April 2012

Review: The Cabin In the Woods

(Dir: Drew Goddard, 2011)

Ok, so where do you start with a review when every tiny detail is tantamount to spoiler? This is a challenge. I firmly believe that if someone is reading a review before seeing a the film then they must expect mild spoilers as the minimum payment for satisfying their curiosity. How else do you describe / write about the film without even giving a little something away? I’m yet to figure that out. Suffice to say I give away enough here that might ruin the first ten minutes of the film. Feel free to turn away if that’s unpalatable, I understand, I don’t read reviews before seeing a film. And if you have seen the film, well, there’s so much more I could’ve said...

In the run up to the release of The Cabin In the Woods one of the most popular and prevailing comments from those who’d seen it was, whatever you do avoid finding out anything about the film beforehand - it’s best knowing nothing. Well surely that’s the best approach for watching every film? Still, I dutifully followed this advice to the point where the first time I saw the trailer in the cinema I didn’t even realise what it was until halfway through, which wasn’t helped by not even knowing who was in the film. I watched the trailer fully that one time but then all subsequent times it was shown I closed my eyes and put hands to ears to dull the sound a bit. There were two things that stuck with me from seeing the trailer just once: 1) I thought I’d gained too much info on what the overarching story might be, and 2) one shot seemed too suggestive of events that might happen later in the story. This is why trailers can really annoy me...

In a very unexpected turn this didn't actually ruin the film for me (aside from the annoyance of expecting to see that scene and it leading me to think I knew the direction the film would take). Why? Because the first ten minutes very clearly establish what the film is doing, which includes what is implied in the trailer about the overarching story. The film may be about a group of friends who go to a remote cabin in the woods for the weekend, where of course it’s highly inevitable that shit will turn weird, but there’s more to it. It’s this overarching aspect of control and manipulation; who is pulling the strings and why?; to what end?; why are we the audience seemingly complicit?; which makes this interesting and makes it clever. Yes that could be considered a spoiler, but as I said it’s established right from the first scenes of the film as well as the trailer, so knowing that really shouldn’t ruin anything. It’s what the film chooses to do with this that’s appealing.

What we see of the “control” side of things is in some ways more interesting than what’s happening in the cabin. Maybe because it feels fresher and more genuinely intriguing than just solely being terror in the woods like we’re used too? The trade off with this is that unfortunately The Cabin In the Woods is not remotely scary. Potential scares are too signposted and there’s not enough opportunity to build dread as we’re not as fully immersed in the environment. This isn't helped by the audience knowing more than the characters. Despite that it’s a well written film that plays with the horror genre with intelligence, so there’s a lot for fans to appreciate, much as there is in the similarly clever Tucker and Dale vs Evil and Behind the Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon. All the characters are likeable and easy to root for, meaning it’s well cast, and it does manage to be quite funny at times, but that affects the film tonally. “Horror comedy” is an oxymoron and not a genre that really works.

Fortunately the question of where this all leads when watching is something of a mystery and certainly not what you expect as the film gets going, but it turns out to be gleefully exciting. It’s in this latter part that the film really flies and seems intent to truly shake loose any traditional genre shackles. It’s a film of ideas in a staid genre, and although it feels knowing in the first half, it delivers something decisively unexpected and brave later on. This is where I reiterate how it’s nice to let some things surprise you.

The Cabin In the Woods is a well put together, fun and intelligent film. As a horror fan I really appreciated it’s creative plays with the genre, and as a fan of film in general I appreciated it’s desire to push the limits in an intriguingly clever manner. It may not be groundbreaking but it’s gratifying to see that some filmmakers still care enough to put thought and effort into the genre. With that being said though, by not being scary it fails at the basic tenet of horror. At least Scream, with all it’s post-modern deconstruction and bluster, managed to be an effective example of the genre too. It’s this part of The Cabin In the Woods that brings it down. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the film a lot, but I need a horror film to deliver on that core aspect because ideas and intelligence only go so far in this genre, even when they are so tantalising. (Don't forget of course how subjective horror is). It’s a film overburdened with hype. Ignore the internet. Don’t read any(more) reviews. Go watch. Enjoy.

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