Cabin in the Woods pokes fun at horror genre
The Cabin in the Woods offers some wry smiles at the expense of slasher movies, but it’s a little too pleased with its cleverness for its own good. By Lance Harris.
The slasher flick has not been the same since Wes Craven’s 1996 horror-comedy Scream so cannily deconstructed the subgenre that he helped to create. Craven’s mockery was affectionate but also so on target that no one has been able to take slasher movies seriously ever since — least of all the people who make them.
So it is with The Cabin in the Woods, a smart-alecky tribute to horror films from producer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard. Assembled from the old bones and rotting flesh of their favourite scary movies, The Cabin in the Woods is an amusing but self-satisfied send-up of the staples of the horror genre.
(The rest of this review won’t reveal much you won’t learn in the first five minutes of the film or the trailer, but there may be spoilers ahead. Read on at your discretion.)
The Cabin in the Woods sends five college students on a weekend break to an eerie and isolated forest, where bad things seem sure to happen. Some officious types in white coats are monitoring the kids on video and manipulating them from their bunker, for reasons that become clear as the film progresses.
Whedon and his Buffy the Vampire Slayer collaborator Goddard use this setup as an excuse to play a mix tape of their favourite horror movie moments and scenes from the past few decades. They play their film for laughs, winking and smirking as they call attention to the ridiculousness of their narrative constructs that prop up horror films.
There are not many scares in the film. Even the geysers of blood and the piles of shredded flesh in the gory climactic act are clearly meant to be funny rather frightening. The best of the jokes hit the beating heart of the horror genre with deadly precision — look out for the film’s take on the backwoods creep who warns the victims not to go into the forest.
The explanation of why otherwise smart teenagers would do fatally dumb things like splitting up to look for the monsters that are stalking them or ripping off their clothes to have hot, heaving sex in a spooky forest is particularly sly. And the barrage of B-grade special effects towards the end of the film includes sequences of such absurdity and audaciousness that you can but gasp and then laugh.
Yet for all The Cabin in the Wood’s cleverness, there is a smugness in the way that the filmmakers show off their undoubtedly encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre that I found off-putting. The knowing blend of comedy and horror isn’t quite as assured as the truly funny and subversive Tucker & Dale versus Evil, for example.
Still, despite that gripe, The Cabin in the Woods is a bit smarter than your average genre fodder. It is an assured directorial debut for Goddard, who has writing credits for Cloverfield and Lost to his name. Shot to look like an eighties horror film and crisply paced throughout its 90 minutes, it never drags.
A bit like a lightweight Michael Haneke, Goddard makes irreverent jabs at the audience’s complicity with the filmmaker in the violence that unfolds on screen. At the heart of the film is a subtext about the way that adult society marginalises and misuses the youth — a theme it shares with The Hunger Games.
Ironically enough, the young lambs to the slaughter are far from fully formed or memorable characters. Representing archetypes like the slutty blond, the smart-mouth stoner and the handsome jock (Chris Hemsworth of Thor — the biggest-name actor in the film), they are there to look good and possibly die. The guy you’ll probably remember best from the film is the ageing character actor Richard Jenkins in yet another great supporting role. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media
- The Cabin in the Woods opens in SA on 27 July