Right, we need to clear a few things up, here at EBFS we are a two headed monster operating with brains roughly 17,000 miles and between 9 and 11 hours apart. We try to split film reviews based on preference for genre, who we think is best suited and sometimes just by being bloody minded. The Cabin in the Woods would seem perfect for our Melbourne based head, having steeped himself in horror from an early age. Unfortunately thanks to a (frankly horseshit) release schedule for Cabin that sees Iceland receive it before Australia, where Cabin lands in JULY, the Manchester based head has bravely ventured across town from his comfy, independent cinema to the big, scary multiplex to see his first horror movie on the big screen since Scream (a lie, but a pleasingly elliptical one don’t you think?).
If all you know about Cabin is that 5 young people go to the title and bad things happen then stop reading. Stop. Go and see it, we’ll wait (EBFS, hums, cleans fingernails, thinks about exes), Are you back? There is no possible way we can see to review this movie (outside of: Great! 4 stars) without revealing anything. Even the vaguest insinuation, the lightest skirting of the plot or the roughest outline of the ending will contain hints, clues and unhelpful nudges of the true nature of the beast. This review won’t have any spoilers but it will have all of the above we’ve mentioned. Sorry.
Since the plot is basically the same as an uncountable number of previous films, kids go to out of reach place, misbehave and are punished by something that they themselves have awoken, lets just say these scenes are handled perfunctorily, lifted from boredom by a fresh script, decent cast chemistry and lots of shots of a motorbike attached to the back of the camper van our nubile group have piled into………right, onto the good stuff.
The marvellously improbable conceit at the centre of Cabin, the one we’re not allowed to mention, is there to provide feeling of complicity in the audience, like Haneke’s Funny Games which are obliquely nodded to with a make you jump title card, Whedon and Goddard (the writers and director, respectively) want you to ask why we like watching pretty teens getting gruesomely tortured and murdered and whether we, as a culture, are partly to blame. They lift the curtain on the horror movie machine and examine the cogs. Haneke achieved this uneasiness with a few glances at the camera and some explicit angles in his realistically brutal film. Goddard is not as subtle, his scenes of revelation are brilliantly written and often very, very funny. So funny in fact, that the laughs outweigh the scares in the second act, slightly unbalancing the excellent build up work performed by a tight act one. Whedon has been balancing comedy with horror for years with his excellent Buffy and Angel series being some of the smartest television of the late nineties and early noughties. His distinctive fingerprints are all over this with reversal of expectation moments thrown at the screen every few minutes. The script Whedon and Goddard have beaten out is witty (too witty), knowing and sharp as a pin. Drenched with homages to the best work of the genre and lifted by performances from their cast that are pitched perfectly to the characters. The five teens play wide eyed stupid well and everyone else, including several Buffy and Angel alumni, well, they’re fine too.
Then we come back to the question of whether a film that knows it’s a film is allowed to make the same, boring decisions and show the same scenes as other films in the genre just because it’s winking to the camera. The best example of this, as we can’t talk about specifics in Cabin, would be the cod, Hollywood-fied ending to Adaptation written by Charlie Kauffman’s imaginary twin. Although the ending fitted the narrative and made its points admirably it was still poor and worse, dull. Cabin flirts with these issues several times during the teens in peril sequences and doesn’t quite get away with it like the nearly perfect, post modern masterpiece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
However, when the endgame begins and all bets are off, the previous issues are forgotten. Piling on the gore, the monsters, the inventiveness and the sheer carnage to a cripplingly apocalyptic level. The last fifteen minutes of Cabin play like Sideshow Bob stepping on the rake in the Simpsons, feeling simply unbelievable that they are still doing it and getting away with it. Absurd, horrific and still pretty funny in places, it’s an ending to be proud of and one that will be endlessly re-watchable for all the in jokes and references it contains. So, starting strong, sagging in the middle as comedy gets the edge on horror but finishing with a loud as loud bang, Cabin is fine, intelligent filmmaking by people who care about the state of their chosen genre. Whether it is a “game changer” is something we’ll have to wait to find out. Great poster too.