- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Alex Lynchehaun
A van crashes through the trees in the desolate backcountry of America. On board, a stock collection of archetypes: the jock, the dumb blonde, the comic-relief stoner. After meeting a creepy old man spouting proclamations of doom at a gas station, the gang head on to an isolated cabin in the woods. You think you know where this is going, right? At the same time a bizarre sitcom unfolds, set in a high-tech office where the banterous co-workers seem to have far more knowledge about the plot than the audience. As these two stories converge, you’re left with no idea about where the film is going to end up.
And that’s a pretty big problem in reviewing the film. A lot of the best moments come from the shock of the unexpected on the screen as the action deftly misdirects one way only to morph into something else completely. And the ride is certainly worth it. It’s not perfectly executed – on several occasions the story writes itself into corners with no satisfactory way out – but the sheer creativity it revels in is a joy to behold in a genre so often lacking originality. The trailer is a perfect taste of the themes of the film, with the clips shown teasing just enough to leave you with an idea of where you think it’s headed that will almost certainly prove to be wrong. With the pedigree of filmmakers though, that is only to be expected; the team of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have many years of experience in subverting genre expectations in projects such as Buffy, Firefly, Lost and Cloverfield.
It’s all too easy to easy to compare the film to Scream, as both offer interesting critiques on the genre. But to do so is to overlook the main weakness of Cabin in the Woods. In the early 90s the horror genre was in dire straights. Many thought it was finished, fit only for straight-to-video B-movies. Scream came out and tore those films apart, and in doing so earned millions of dollars and revitalised the genre. Since then the horror movie has been declared to be dead with depressing regularity. But horror never dies; it just finds a new hook. In the past decade that has been the torture porn of the Saw movies and the homemade feel of Paranormal Activity. When Scream 4 was released last year, this was a point it completely missed, and it consequently lacked all of its bite because of how dated and irrelevant the jokes were. And it’s a trap that Cabin in the Woods unfortunately falls into too. Every poster for the film shouts the phrase “game-changer”, and maybe ten years ago it would have been. But it’s not going to have any lasting effect on an industry that has already forgotten the tropes it’s parodying.
And that perhaps is the biggest tragedy of Cabin in the Woods. It’s an excellent film, and one I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending. But it feels like a throwback, rather than insightful commentary. So while it’s enjoyable, it’s no Scream.