– Review by Paul Ewbank-
Warning: this is a film in which the plot twists are a central part of the enjoyment. As such I won’t directly ruin any of the main plot points in this article, even though you’ve had plenty of time to see the film. Still, you may be able to infer some of what is going on from what I write*, and this will only detract from what is one of the most insanely good movie-going experiences in recent memory. If you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favour and track down a copy ASAP.
*I can’t be sure about this since I haven’t actually written anything yet.
The summer of 2012 was the point when Joss Whedon went from cult TV hero to A-list Hollywood film maker, helming two of the summer’s biggest movies (this and The Avengers) both of which rank among the best films of the year at the very least. For my money both are serious contenders for inclusion in my top 5 films of all time. And that list literally NEVER changes. While Avengers was a comic nerd’s deepest wish fulfilled in a way that was almost too perfect to be true, bringing together the continuities of five different films and a whole team of legendary superheroes into one melting pot of PURE AWESOME, raising the bar for every superhero movie to come, Cabin in the Woods took a different approach. Cult classic horror movies are adored and revered by geek culture just as much as comic books, and Whedon, himself clearly a mega-fan of the likes of Evil Dead and other 80’s indie horror, sought to respond to his perception that the horror genre was falling on hard times. It’s hard to argue with him on that, looking at the endless parade of brainless gore fests and lame remakes that pass for modern horror films. So with Cabin in the Woods, Whedon takes the ultimate overdone horror concept- a group of teens go off into the woods for a vacation only to find things not all as they seem- and turns in on its head. As previously stated, I’m not going to say exactly how he does this, suffice to say that every time you think you’ve finally grasped what is going on, another mind blowing plot-bomb is dropped, keeping you guessing and enthralled till the very final seconds.
As well as the basic idea being something of an affectionate parody of the time-worn horror device of the ‘spooky cabin in the middle of nowhere’, the film also pokes holes in the way most horror films rely on stock characters an idiot mentalities to progress. At the start of your standard slasher flick you can pretty much point out who is who and which will die when within minutes. And in the films where you’re lucky enough to get some actual character development it will usually be limited to Spice Girls levels of one-dimensionalness as ‘the smart one’, ‘the sporty one’, ‘the female one’ and ‘the funny one’ are once again paraded past your eyes and expected to generate emotional investment. In the opening scenes of Cabin in the Woods each of the characters is given ample screen time to show that they have *gasp* more than one character trait and are actually fully rounded human beings, before getting progressively more stupid and one-dimensional due to ingenious plot meddling as the film progresses. And don’t you just hate it every time a horror film can only function due to the protagonists being ABSOLUTE MORONS? “Sure, splitting up is a great idea! What could go wrong? Better yet, let’s just wander off into the woods one by one and see what happens!” Well Cabin gives this mentality the drubbing it deserves, to hilarious effect. Even the very idea of watching the suffering of other people for entertainment is probed by the final lines of dialogue and by certain reality TV elements which appear throughout.
There’s an awful lot more going on than I’ve mentioned, but lest you think this film is too cerebral to be fun, I should mention that as well as being the master of witty banter and pop-culture scrutiny, Whedon is firmly establishing himself as a guy who knows how to build his features to an almighty climax. A producer and director with a real eye for the structure of his films, he ensures that Cabin is impeccably paced as the builds and releases in tension come in all the right places and are broken up by enough laughs to keep you engaged. By the time the finale rolls around you’re invested enough in the world and the story that he can blow the entire thing out of the water and you’ll still go along with it. Seriously, the final scenes of this movie are some of the most jaw-dropping, brain pummelling, face melting fountains of pure, unbridled insanity that you will ever see. To say that all hell breaks loose is rarely as applicable as it is to this, and I guarantee you will be left stunned by the sheer exhilarating madness of what you have seen.
I’m not actually as big a horror fan as you might think for a guy who critiques end of the world stories for a pastime, but I desperately wanted to see this one from the minute it came out. After finally getting hold of the DVD almost a year later I can honestly say that all my expectations were more than met. This film really is one of those rare, joyous moments where the hype barely does the real thing justice, and even non genre fans will be blown away by the sheer ingenuity of this most revolutionary of films.