RogerBW's Blog

The Cabin in the Woods 24 April 2016

2012 horror, dir. Drew Goddard, Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth: IMDb / allmovie

Five teenagers go for a weekend trip to a remote cabin. It doesn't end well.

I generally despise Joss Whedon's writing and plotting. I didn't get on with Buffy, and I'm one of the few people who liked Firefly but was glad it ended before it got too self-indulgent. Drew Goddard, co-writer as well as director here, wrote the tedious Cloverfield before this and the more tedious World War Z afterwards. And yet, this is one of the best horror films I have ever seen, to the point that I think there is now basically no justification for anyone making another generic "expendable meat" horror film. (This didn't stop them, of course.) The tropes have been skewered so effectively that there's no need ever to use them again.

Also unusually for me, I'd say it's worth not knowing what's going on until you watch it. I normally don't care about "spoilers", and this is worth re-watching too, but in this case I think my experience was enhanced by picking up the clues spread out through the narrative rather than knowing in advance what would happen.

The film has more or less the resolution I'd expected from the beginning, but it is well-implemented; Whedon and his team had the sense to set up a situation where their usual writing style was a plus point (one set of people can be snarky because they're filling the roles of expendable fodder; the other set, well, once you find out why they're doing what they're doing their snark makes a certain amount of sense too).

Most of the actors were relative unknowns in film at the time, with previous role credits like "Makeout Girl" and "The Kid"; by the time this was released, Chris Hemsworth was known for Thor, but this had been made a year before that, then delayed because of financial problems at MGM. It was one of the last pair of films made by the old management, the other being the dire Red Dawn remake, and was sold off to Lionsgate (given how many dreary expendable-meat films they've released it seems only fair). I favour cheap new actors, in general: some of them will turn out to be really good, and all of them will be giving it their best because it's their one chance at the big time.

I particularly liked the way many film cliches were inverted – to pick just one example, the desperate effort to join two wires together in the nick of time. And even the overall plot made quite a bit of sense. Like the first Pirates of the Caribbean, the film hits dead-on that difficult point between under-parodying, and becoming disrespectful to, the source material.

If you're fed up with the same old reliable "scare" moments and want something with a bit more cleverness, or if you've met the Expendable Meat mostly through its influence on popular culture and don't find the basic story terribly interesting, this is a film I can recommend highly.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 03:18pm on 24 April 2016

    The first few series of Buffy were great for me. What I really liked was the talking between all the characters, there was no desparate rush to get on with the action like there is in so much stuff. It flagged a bit in later series but there were still standout episodes, for example the Musical episode was a marvellous parody.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 10:41am on 25 April 2016

    The episodes I saw seemed very heavy-handed and thudding: oh, here is a thing being set up, I wonder if that will be important later, why yes it will. Firefly seemed to be heading in that direction too, particularly with River the superhero (Whedon does love his damaged women). But this film has none of that.

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