(Written for Rough Cut Reviews)
Directed and written by American film and television producer Drew Goddard (Alias, Lost), alongside American screenwriter Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), The Cabin in the Woods delivers a clever-take on a clichéd genre of film making.
Set in the middle of an abandoned woodlands, the film follows the narrative of five high school friends who decide to go for a break in a remote cabin in the heart of the woods. However, as the group settle in for the weekend they soon begin to realise the cabin has more to offer than the fun vacation they were looking for.
Whilst plot details remained scarce until its release earlier this month, promotional teasers for the film promised us this latest horror flick would turn the horror genre on its head. Although it may sound and look like your typical clichéd exploitation film, where a masked murderer kills off good-looking people one-by-one, The Cabin in the Woods is anything but conventional.
Starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), alongside Kristen Connolly (The Happening), Fran Kranz (The Village) and newcomers Anna Hutchinson and Jesse Williams, the actors make up a bunch of stereotypical characterizations of an American high school’s social hierarchy. Embracing these characters, the cast does a surprisingly good job at rejecting the typical stereotypes Hollywood places on young stars, by losing the predictable edge so many film directors adopt when working on horror films.
Originally penned for worldwide release in 2011, The Cabin in the Woods has remained in post-production for three years, after Lionsgate Entertainment scrapped plans to convert the film into 3D. After media reports suggested the film would be released just in time for Halloween in 2011, the film finally had its world première at the South by Southwest film festival in March 2012.
Without giving too much away, the film opens with two middle-aged technicians dressed in white lab coats (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford), just as they are about to start their day at work in an underground bunker. Seen talking about an upcoming experiment, this first scene suggests The Cabin in the Woods is not your typical cat and mouse chase scenario. From this point on, the unpredictable events that take place begin to unwind, leading up to the brilliantly crafted twist minutes before the closing credits.
Equally balanced between black comedy and horror, the film carries with it many references and similarities from Sam Raimi’s cabin movie The Evil Dead, and hints at the work of Wes Craven who back in 1996, brought us one of the most popular horror franchises of-all-time to our screens with the Scream trilogy. Similar to 1960’s Psycho and more recent horror films The Sixth Sense and The Others, directors urged viewers not to let slip the shock twists, in fear it would affect the audience’s perception of the film. The Cabin in the Woods, along with a handful of others, follows in this rare, yet successful trend, and easily fits within this strong class of film making.
Whilst the film may appeal to many, for the most die-hard of horror fans out there, the amount of horror The Cabin in the Woods has to offer is a little underwhelming. Although packed with plenty of tense moments throughout, the film does not offer anything that hasn’t already been done. Most of the films storyline and decisions simply build the foundations for the last 20 minutes, and at times it seems this focus overshadows the main plot that runs for the first hour or so.
Hoping to follow in the success of renowned directors Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Craven and M.Night Shyamalan, for their alternative take on the horror genre; both directors bring together another entirely new approach to cinema. The Cabin in the Woods finds the perfect balance between cliché and diversity, and sticks its middle finger up to the endless supply of conventional horror films seen today. The film provides a secret plot and surprising twist that makes up only half of what the film is about, and has already opened to rave reviews from critics. Overall, Goddard and Whedon prove that there is still hope in this genre of film making, which in recent years has come under tough scrutiny from both critics, and movie-goers.