Dir. Drew Goddard
4 out of 5
The Cabin in the Woods is a bit of a bastard. It’s as if Office Space and Saw had a love child which, in turn, had a love child with early nineties reality TV show Takeshi’s Castle. You’re not quite sure where it’s going but you have such low expectations of slasher horror by now that you welcome each double bluff, each trick of misdirection. The Cabin in the Woods is a horror film which succeeds in being incredibly funny and scary (no prizes for first place there), but it’s also a movie which you can feel looking right back at you. It knows how to manipulate you, to horrify you, to move you to hysterics, and it lets you know it’s in control.
The ‘every minute a twist’ storyline sees two aging pencil pushers giving cinema’s least helpful establishing duologue about some bio-chemical industry before we are flashed with the blood red block capitals of ‘THE CABIN IN THE WOODS’. It is an opening which contains more light banter about ex-wives than it does mortal dread. The next scene is one which can be deemed lightly the ‘assembling of the meat’. Each youthful lamb to slaughter is given a quirky and semi-typical introduction. We have the jock, the slut, the geek, the fool and the “virgin”. All road trip to a remote cabin and meet an ominous semi-psycho along the way. So far so slasher, but that’s where things get weird.
To avoid spoilers it would be helpful to speak in metaphors. The movie formula becomes a little like the Big Brother house if it were operated by Derren Brown, like Friends if it were directed by Eli Roth, like the video game The Sims when you’re feeling a little sadistic. It’s a guilty pleasure. But this pleasure is lauded. The office working pencil pushers are grinning with you, their job to watch the typical Hollywood youths approach their doom, adding another cinematic layer. Remarkably though, we root for both worlds. The slippery nature of the story, offering up information little by little, means the audience can’t take sides between the snide office comedy and the terrified teenagers and impact is lost from neither.
This movie throws out horror references like sweets at Halloween. We get a little bit of everything; from The Shining, to The Dawn of The Dead, to The Evil Dead, to Friday the Thirteenth, to The Ring and even We Need to Talk About Kevin. The picture is a miasma of ‘what if?’ situations, most of them involving machetes, clowns, claws and brain matter. But more than this it is a comment on the direction of slasher horror pictures. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon use the split narrative to point a finger at the ridiculous needs of the slasher movie viewer. They questions the audience’s carnal desire to view death, a desire that must be balanced with the pretence of watching a realistic drama in order to preserve the illusion of good taste. It’s a point well made, but perhaps one made a little late in the game, the heyday of slasher horror flicks having ended at least a decade ago. But this is still a small price to pay for a film in which someone says; “I just dismembered this guy with a trowel. How’s your evening been?”
For future viewers, a little advice: go in expecting the expected. And pay attention to everything you see in the basement.