Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Do you think horror films are overly formulaic? Perhaps something like:
(es+u+cs+t)2+s+(tl+f)/2 +(a+dr+fs)/n + sin x - 1?
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard seem to think so. In The Cabin in the Woods they follow the basic rules of US horror films - five college students (the hunk, the sexy blonde, the cute quieter brunette, the scholar and the pothead - looking suspiciously like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo) spend a weekend in cabin in the woods against the advice of a cranky old local man. Naturally they wake up something evil that shortens their life expectancy. There is no surprise in the order of their demise.
Fran Kranz as Marty
Fran Kranz as Marty
"It was the pioneer days; people had
to make their own interrogation rooms.
Out of cornmeal."

But luckily there is another side to The Cabin in the Woods, an exploration of why horror film plots have so many common elements. It pulls aside the curtain and shows us the strings and levers that maneuvour pretty young things into silly life shortening behaviours. This takes the film into an X-files / H. P. Lovecraft direction that works best if you don't read the plot spoilers on Wikipedia etc.

Shaggy from Scooby-Doo
The inspiration for Marty?
While The Cabin in the Woods is not the first horror film to deconstruct the genre (see Scream or Tucker and Dale vs Evil), this is the one that will appeal to Joss Whedon fans. It has his trademark high production values, spunky petite actresses and most importantly quotable lines and references to other films. Plenty for the fanatics to look for and tweet about over multiple watchings.

Anna Hutchison works her butt off in her short lived role that steals the limelight until her demise. Once she has gone Kristen Connolly (as Dana) is intended to carry the cabin story for the rest of the film but she doesn't quite match up to other feisty heroines in the genre. Fran Kranz as Marty supports her with some of the best lines in the film, which is lucky as the other two guys are almost interchangeable, but he is hampered by his light entertainment role.

The final act starts when Dana and Marty take the elevator down to Peter Jackson territory and CGI threatens to take over from dialogue and acting. This is a bit of a pity because snappy dialogue is a feature of this film. But if you like lots of monsters and gore then this will be your favourite part.

The other stand-out actor is Richard Jenkins as an unflapable, super capable, middle manager in the parallel story. Richard's face is far more familiar than his name in countless supporting roles as someone's sad-eyed dad or co-worker (Six Feet Under, Burn after Reading). Lurking in the background is Amy Acker looking perky but lacking opportunities to shine.

Anne complained that The Cabin in the Woods wasn't funny enough. I thought that the pacing was wrong. Too much plot given away too soon, and not enough character development for us to care about who if anyone survived. The climatic scene went on too long. A hand reaching out of mirror to strangle someone is shocking but the end of the world -- not so much. But I'm sure Joss Whedon fans will be too busy trying to pick up on all the references and memorise the best lines to notice the defects.

Ian 3.5/5 Anne 2.5/5

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