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posted Friday, April 20, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 16

Giddily gory Cabin worth visiting
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Cabin in the Woods
Now Playing


Five college friends - Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams) - head for a weekend in the country at a secluded cabin deep in the middle of a mountainous section of the woods. While there, they discover a mysterious collection of eerie items within the cellar, unintentionally unleashing a bloody force that will stalk, terrorize, and dismember them one by one. That, however, is only half the story.

What's the rest? Don't look at me for answers, because the fun of Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard's directorial debut The Cabin in the Woods is discovering all its twists, turns, and clever sleight-of-hands for oneself. Working from an inspired script co-written with Joss Whedon, the pair's time together going all the way back to their Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel heydays, Goddard has assembled a wickedly nasty and exuberantly energetic thrill ride that embraces the schlock aesthetics of its genre just as completely as it assuredly dismantles them. It is the most agreeably effervescent and enjoyable deconstruction of horror clich├ęs since the original Scream, the filmmakers and their cast of veterans and newcomers delivering a sensational monster-mash the likes of which I'm not quite sure I've seen before.

It's hard to say more. The film's trailers and commercials have already gone too far in spoiling a number of the surprises, and even though Goddard and Whedon unveil their central secret during the film's hilariously inspired pre-credits sequence that doesn't mean the pair come close to revealing all their cards. In many ways, they approach the film like Duncan Jones did with both Moon and Source Code, not so much keeping their central conceits hidden until the end credits but doling out information judiciously as the narrative requires.

I love this approach. While sometimes having a big 'Wow!' moment can work for a film (i.e. The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense), more often than not the viewer spends so much time trying to figure out what said twist will be it ends up coloring one's enjoyment of the picture in a negative fashion. The tack Goddard and Whedon use allows characters to expand and explore in a much more realistic fashion, making the viewer care more with what is going on and what is happening to them then they would otherwise.

Even better, I love how the duo presents their central quintet as smart and sophisticated, allowing circumstance (and other, better left unspoken devices), to slowly transform them into the required stereotypes. In many ways Dana, Jules, Marty, and the rest become just like the rest of us, cogs in a very large machine we rarely see and barely understand. They are devices to be manipulated, their collective battle to undo what's being done to them almost analogous to the state of political disinformation assaulting us all during this current presidential election cycle.

Not that I'm reading more into this than is necessary. At its heart, The Cabin in the Woods is a genre riff composed by two master musicians who know the classics inside and out. They pay gorily gentle homage to Night of the Living Dead, Suspiria, Evil Dead, Japanese horror movies, Dead Alive, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Fright Night, Hellraiser, Friday the 13th, and just about everything else with shocking ease. Catching all the references borders on impossible (I swear I saw one for Chopping Mall, of all things).

But the biggest influences, without a doubt, have to be the works of director John Carpenter and the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The movie is a delicately brutal love letter to them, and anyone familiar with either is going to discover countless layers to Goddard and Whedon's mythology that can be explicitly linked to both men. The explosively cynical finale is one part The Thing, two parts Prince of Darkness, and three parts In the Mouth of Madness, making for the kind of apocalyptically satisfying denouement fans will be talking rhapsodically about for eons.

I'm not going to say anything more. The truth is that The Cabin in the Woods is a winner in all the ways that count. It is a movie I can't wait to watch again, one I'm sure will become an annual staple around Halloween, the Blu-ray getting used with more frequency than I should probably admit. Goddard shows promise as a director, engineering an intricate spectacle of mayhem and monsters that doesn't forget that the human element is just as important as the supernatural one.



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