SXSW Film Review – The Cabin in the Woods
To describe Drew Goddard’s new film The Cabin in the Woods as David Lynch-ian is putting it mildly. The film takes the premise of a simple slasher film and eschews all the conventions in the process, creating something unlike I have ever seen before. Any comparisons to other films would be stretching it.
The Cabin in the Woods marks the directorial debut of Goddard, a man who has a long history of working on some of the most unique projects on television, notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, where he teamed with his The Cabin in the Woods co-writer/producer Joss Whedon. As if learning from that master producer wasn’t good enough experience, Goddard also worked as a producer on both Alias and Lost, working with the master of the slow reveal, J.L. Abrams. Needless to say, the combining of those two worlds had me immensely excited going into the project.
The publicists have asked us to not spoil anything, and I’ll do my best, but honestly, even if I tried it probably would be hard to understand. To this end I will say the trailer does a pretty solid job of keeping it vague as to what is happening. The story concerns a group of friends who take a trip to the cabin of the cousin of Curt (played by Chris Hemsworth), in hopes of blowing off some steam. As is traditional with horror films, things go horribly wrong…except something is different. They are being manipulated by a larger force through the control of their environment. What is this force and why are they they doing this? That is the mystery of The Cabin in the Woods.
Goddard (the writer of Cloverfield) and Whedon (creator of Buffy, Angel and Firefly) have a long history as genre busters, and this is their attempt at re-imagining slasher films. They certainly succeeded in avoiding falling into conventions—by re-writing the book. Still, the film, while entertaining, didn’t feel quite as cohesive as their other work. Whether it was the brisk 95-minute running time or the fast clip at which the story moves, I actually would’ve appreciated a bit more time to enjoy the scenery and digest the action. While many of the conventions of slashers movies have been busted, ultimately the framework of it is largely still intact, with a slow opening burn leading to an intense final climax. Thankfully, as I said, the marketers of the film were smart enough to leave the best surprises out of the trailer.
Among the cast, Kristen Connolly is solid as Dana, but I never really felt a spark from the character. Perhaps it is because she is saddled with the “serious” role, but I never felt she had a lot to work with. To me the star of the film is Marty (played by Fran Kranz), who provided a lot of sensibility and comedic relief. His presence in the film happened to correspond with a lot of the most entertaining parts of the movie. Chris Hemsworth was fantastic as well and passes through his role effortlessly—just making me all the more eager to see him team with Whedon on The Avengers this summer.
One of the striking things about the movie is the violence. I haven’t seen either Goddard or Whedon work on a exploitation film like this before. Granted, they are working within the slasher genre, but to say there are buckets of blood in this movie is an understatement. Squeamish film-goers, please take note of this. The one interesting twist is that while it is violent, it isn’t particularly scary. Speaking with a self-professed “horrorphobe,” we both agreed it seemed to go for more of a shock vibe than a scare vibe. The use of CGI in the film is pretty incredible; clearly Goddard’s experience working on Cloverfield taught him how to get bang for the buck. And the more standard special effects are also really fun and very creative, while giving some nods to other classic horror films. Still, towards the end it begins to drift a little close to overkill.
After watching, I sat and thought to myself where I would rank this in comparison to the filmmakers’ back catalogue. As much as I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods, I personally wouldn’t rank it above Serenity or Cloverfield. It is a fun ride and does a good job of twisting a genre in need of some creativity, but it just doesn’t feel quite as cohesive as those other films. And ultimately when the final reveal comes, it is entertaining, but I wouldn’t call it shocking. The biggest thing that Hollywood and viewing audiences should take away from this movie is that there is value to be found in creativity—they just need to empower the right people.
Final Grade: A-