Two thousand and twelve is turning out to be the year of Joss, it seems. Now that The Avengers is comfortably seated at third highest grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation), we finally get to see his 2009 film, The Cabin in the Woods, which has been completed and sitting on the shelf for the past three years. Buffy alumni and writer of Cloverfield, Drew Goddard co-wrote this with Whedon, whilst Whedon produced and took on second unit directing duties.
As the title suggests, the film tackles head on one of the most common premises to be featured in Hollywood slasher films. A group of five young people go to spend the weekend in a rundown shack in the middle of the backwoods somewhere in Nowhereville, USA. What Goddard and Whedon do with the film from this point on, however, is turn the concept on its head and inside out. The result is what has to be the most self-aware horror film since Scream first hit our screens in 1995.
On this site I have often bemoaned the fact that horror movies of the last decade or so seemed, for the most part, to ignore Scream. Heroines kept running upstairs, teenagers kept on getting killed for having premarital sex and potential victims kept avoiding dispatching the killer when they had the chance. The Cabin in the Woods is a film that – finally – takes the self-reflexive nature of Scream to the next level.
The less you know about this film, the better. It’s not like there are any huge twists as such, but more that the film is so fiendishly clever that it’s best to go in cold. Every single piece of dialogue is working on multiple levels, and as complicated as the storytelling process can get, the screenplay is practically watertight. I identified several plot holes, only to realise later on that the film had actually expertly addressed those issues.
The performances are all great. Kristen Connolly plays the ‘virgin’, whilst a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth fills the shoes of the ‘jock’. Anna Hutchison and Jesse Williams are great, and those familiar with Whedon’s work will recognise some of the others. Fran Kranz (‘Dollhouse’), Amy Acker (‘Angel’/’Dollhouse’) and Tom Lenk (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’/’Angel’) all make appearances at one point or another throughout the film.
If Cabin in the Woods missteps at all, it’s by not giving us much of a chance to become emotionally involved. It’s not that the performances or the direction are lacking – as I said, these are all top-notch, and the cast are quite likeable. But when we have a film that is so extremely self-aware, filled with characters that are both fulfilling common archetypes and at the same time bucking the trend, there’s not much time for us to get a sense of who they really are.
Why this film didn’t get a wide release here in Australia, I’ll never know. It’s currently showing on only ONE screen in Melbourne. It features rising star Chris Hemsworth and the writer/producer’s last film just made $1.4 billion at the box office – what more convincing do executives need? For horror movie buffs, The Cabin in the Woods is an absolute must. It sees Goddard and Whedon in top form, and after both this and ‘Buffy’, I find it hard to believe that they have anything more to say about the genre…Rating: