‘Cabin’ houses inventive horror
Oh, the horror: Kristen Connolly in “Cabin in the Woods.”
Updated: April 8, 2013 10:21AM
CABIN IN THE WOODS
★ ★ ★ 1/2
Five clueless city kids spend the weekend partying in a spooky, creepy, isolated cabin in the woods.
How much of a chance do they have to come out alive?
Not so good, you might say, if you’re a student of horror films, or if you’re even the slightest bit conversant with the plots of slasher items such as the original “Friday the 13th,”or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” or “Sleepaway Camp” or “The Evil Dead” or post-modern variations such as “”House of 1000 Corpses” or Eli “Hostel” Roth’s “Cabin Fever.”
Well, it turns out their chances are even less cheery in “Cabin in the Woods,” a knowing, frequently brilliant, thoroughly entertaining meta-parody of the psycho-bait, slasher-movie sub-genre, courtesy of pop-culture spin-meister Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and co-writer/debut director Drew Goddard (a “Buffy” grad who went on to work as a writer on TV’s “Lost” and to script the post-modern monster flick “Cloverfield”). “Cabin” is comparable to the tongue-in-cheek “Scream” series in that it fools around intellectually with the conventions of teen slasher movies, but it also makes fun of the genre by wading hip-deep into insanely gruesome violence, a.k.a. Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson’s 1992 zombie-fest “Dead Alive.”
Genre parody doesn’t quite sum up what “Cabin” is about, though, since Goddard and Whedon (who apparently co-wrote the screenplay over a period of three days), don’t re-examine cliches as much as they explode them — while also suggesting that the end of the world as we know it might not be such a bad idea.
The less said about the frequently surprising plot, the better, though it’s fair to note that while the basic setup is familiar, everything else is up for grabs. Essentially, you have five standard-issue, youthful, slasher-movie victims assembled for a licentious weekend in the woods: The jock (Chris Hemsworth of “Thor”), the blond bimbo (Anna Hutchison), the heroic nice-guy (Jesse Williams of “Grey’s Anatomy”), the wise-cracking stoner (Fran Kranz of “Dollhouse”) and the good-girl (soap-opera actress Kristen Connolly). An FBI-looking guy reports to headquarters as they pull away in their Winnebago, a falcon disappears in a zap of feathers after flying into what appears to be an invisible force field after tagging along for awhile with their RV and we make the acquaintance of a couple of white-collar government workers (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins), who appear to be observing everything that happens to them.
“Cabin in the Woods” is very funny, right away, which should come as no surprise to fans of Whedon (who wrote and directed the upcoming “Avengers” update in addition to earning a legion of fans as the creator of “Buffy” — and whose early credits include the screenplay for Pixar’s original “Toy Story”). Whether you’re a horror fan or not, it’s likely you’ll be familiar with the characters and situations Whedon and Goddard are playing with here, and they have a lot of fun undermining our expectations. The real fun, though, is a matter of how far they are willing to go to make what could either be called the ultimate parody of a horror movie — or the ultimate horror movie.
It’s fair to say the young characters in “Cabin” are double-doomed. Perhaps even triple-doomed. Why? Because the game is rigged in a way they can never hope to beat. Which is kind of a drag on various levels when you begin to realize we, the audience, are meant to be understood as the framers of the game. And that there’s no guarantee of safety, even if you’re observing from a safe distance.
If you’re a fan of the genre, “Cabin’ is simply a must-see. If you’re not, and you have a strong stomach, it’s still a good bet, if you have an appreciation for adventurous and inventive story-telling. And a sturdy pair of hip boots to keep you clear of the gore.