The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods posterThe fanboy landscape in Hollywood entertainment is today dominated by two giants: JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon. The former graduated from teen soapie Party of Five to the excellent Alias, then to mega-hit Lost and finally to directing the Star Trek reboot for the big screen – the ultimate geeky dream come true. The latter’s original concept for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was thwarted by studio interference that resulted in a bland, pulpy film, but he managed to resurrect and redeem his heroine via the fantastically popular television series and its spin-off, Angel. Underrated sci-fi Western Firefly followed, culminating in the film Serenity, then Dollhouse and Neil Patrick Harris’s inspired Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Most anticipated by Whedon fans this year is the superhero ensemble Avengers Assemble, when (it is hoped) the writer-director-producer will finally get a chance to stretch his directorial muscles and show the industry exactly what greatness he is capable of. In the meantime we have his production of Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods. And it’s more than sufficient a stopgap. For any other player in the industry it could well be their creative zenith.

It would be natural to expect from a writer as sharp and culturally aware as Whedon witty dialogue crammed with references, and the lines certainly do not disappoint. But the script delivers more than just that:  the plot is tight, intelligent and explains, once and for all, precisely why in every slasher film ever made apparently educated teenagers (each of whom adheres to a preordained and very specific stereotype) head out into remote places, indulge in all manner of raucous behaviour and subsequently suffer a massive, collective failure of common sense leading to their brutal murder (in this case, by a family of redneck zombies). Except for the Final Girl, of course.

Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker and Bradley WhitfordThe parallel storyline, in which an enormous government department (echoing the Initiative in Season 3 of Buffy) conspires to place the characters in the perfect set of circumstances in which to die, provides the rationale. Best of all (and without giving away too many spoilers), from Friday the 13th to The Evil Dead to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beyond, the reason behind every implausible slasher/monster/gorefest the audience has ever seen is immediately made clear.

As he did with Buffy and Angel, Whedon (and his co-writer Drew Goddard, another fanboy-genius in the making and writer of Cloverfield, who has worked extensively in the past with both Whedon and JJ Abrams) brilliantly blends comedy and chilling horror into a delectably satisfying and near-perfect film that provides both belly laughs and jumps in equal, generous measure. Constant riffing on genre favourites from Sam Raimi’s superb The Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn to Canadian gem Cube to 13 Ghosts to Japanese horror and the video nasties of the early 80s will delight.

Kristen Connolly and Jesse Williams discover something funny with the mirrorThe cast is excellent, too. Audiences will recognise Australian Chris Hemsworth from Thor, but at the time The Cabin in the Woods was filmed (2009) his only notable film appearance had been the role of Captain Kirk’s father George in Star Trek. Clear Final Girl Kristen Connolly gives a strong performance and is so unremittingly pretty it’s impossible not to like her. Jesse Williams and Anna Hutchison also play their roles with alacrity, but the real stand-out is relative newcomer Fran Kranz as Marty, the genre-aware stoner (think Jamie Kennedy in the Scream films). Much of the comedy rests with him, and damn, is the boy funny. Leading the government conspiracy sub-plot are stalwart Richard Jenkins and West Wing veteran Bradley Whitford as the jaded and hilarious coordinators of the project. Fans of the Buffyverse will be thrilled to spot Tom Lenk and Amy Acker among the government drones, and the surprise cameo ninety minutes in is stunningly appropriate.

If anything, the film does fall apart slightly in the final thirty seconds, but the slightly disappointing ending does little to tarnish what is otherwise an absolutely splendid film. This is one to see, to buy on Blu-ray and watch over and over again, doubtless spotting something new every time.

About The Author

Katherine hails from South Africa, where she subsidised her uncompleted Masters in Film Studies by trying to persuade students there was more to film than the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg. Her portfolio of film criticism includes film column “The Maguffin” for iafrica.com (where the controversial “What Could a Nice Girl Like Me Have Against Forrest Gump?” caused quite a stir), a year as DVD Review editor for FHM and a lifetime of utter, unrelenting geekdom. Passionate about film in its many forms, she has a particular fondness for the Marx Brothers and David Cronenberg, and a DVD collection that takes up half her lounge.

4 Responses

  1. Ben

    Erm… You’ve got Chris Hemsworth mixed up with Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in Star Trek).

    But yeah, splendid film indeed!

    Reply
  2. Daniel

    She doesn’t have them mixed up. She said Chris Hemsworth played Kirk’s brother, with Kirk being played by Chris Pine.

    Reply
  3. Katherine Naylor

    Hi Daniel, it was a post-comment edit. Ben, thanks for pointing it out (I swear I do know the difference; it was a late-night typo!).

    Thanks for reading, guys.

    Reply

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