Monday, April 30, 2012

Film Review: The Cabin in the Woods

I finally got around to watching The Cabin in the Woods a few nights ago. It’s a hard film to talk about without spoiling things, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to wait until you have before reading the rest of this.

Let’s start with the first obvious thing: The Cabin in the Woods is not a horror film.

Yes, there’s plenty of ketchup splattering the walls (especially near the end) and people die, but it’s a film that’s more likely to set the audience laughing than gripping the armrests in white-knuckle terror.

And the second obvious thing: The Cabin in the Woods is bloody brilliant.

I really liked the film. It’s inventive and highly entertaining. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud lines. It also has perhaps one of the finest Oh Crap moments ever set to film (If you’ve seen it, you’ll know the one I mean). As entertainment, it’s perfect.

And the final obvious thing: Entertainment is not what most people will talk about when discussing The Cabin in the Woods.

Yep, it’s the meta, baby. It’s all about the subverting, deconstructing and bending of common horror tropes while tipping a knowing wink to the audience. It’s not a new concept for horror. Scream revitalised the jaded slasher sub-genre by including self-aware characters and playing around with the obvious clich├ęs. Feast replaced Twenty Minutes With Jerks with freeze-frame captions and then plays merry hell with the usual horror death tropes. Michael Haneke’s original Funny Games (a deliberately uncomfortable film to watch) makes the audience complicit in the carnage.

Cabin is a lighter, fluffier version of Funny Games in that the entities behind everything can be seen as proxies for the audience. The main characters start off as relatively normal human beings, and are then manipulated into becoming the tired stereotypes of the films Cabin is lampooning. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard do a good job of introducing the slasher bait and making them seem like likable human beings. This is a vast improvement over Goddard’s last film, Cloverfield, where the vacuous obnoxiousness of the leads dragged down an interesting concept.

There was potential here for Whedon and Goddard to take the film down a much more visceral, nastier path by juxtaposing the early humour with the grim realities of the character’s fates, but by rejecting the torture porn ethos of recent horror they also reject the chance of taking the film out of the other horror ghetto of Played for Laughs. Horror doesn’t need more smirking, self-aware films; it needs films that sock the viewer in the guts. In that respect Cabin isn’t a game-changer. For me, a game-changer would be a film that delivers genuine scares, has well-rounded characters worth giving a damn about, and just about stays within the line of entertainment. Sounds so simple, but I can’t see Hollywood making it until they remember how to make horror films for adults, rather than fifteen-year-old boys.

In summary, The Cabin in the Woods is great fun to watch, but if you’re expecting to be shocked out of your socks, you’re going to go home disappointed. I wanted to see a sexy witch...

It’s also given me an idea for a little writing project (as if I haven’t got enough of those on the go already!). More on that later…maybe…

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