The tagline says ‘You think you know the story’, and we dare you to defy it. Sure, the title is generic, the characters fit the moulds of the whore, the jock, the virgin and the stoner, and they’re about to take a trip to a cabin that is “unworthy of global positioning”.
There’s even the obligatory stop at a gas station where they’re clearly warned by a hacking, spitting hillbilly that getting back out will be tricky. So far, so safe in accordance with typical horror tropes and conventions. But what unfolds is far from expected.
You need only glance at the brains behind this bloodbath to realise these good-looking bunch of hormones are in for an entirely different horror encounter. Co-written by Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and Drew Goddard (writer for Buffy, Angel, and Cloverfield), the script has their trademark wit wisecracking all over it. Another telltale sign is the cast members that boast a pass to Whedon’s exclusive club of talent with Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse), Tom Lenk (Buffy), and Dollhouse’s Fran Kranz being reused, and for good reason. They join Avenger Chris Hemsworth, then a relative unknown with a crewcut, donning the letterman jacket over his would-be Thor muscles.
The film was actually shot in 2009, but has been skulking on the shelves of MGM since the studio folded. Now its release couldn’t be timelier, with Whedon’s Avengers Assemble out this April and Goddard penning Spielberg’s Robopocalypse. The pair are clearly exorcising their issues with the horror genre here, as The Cabin… is a sharp slash in the gut to all that’s wrong with it. This movie flies in the face of conventions, just as Buffy did for television.
To reap the most rewards you need to go in blind; ignore the trailer that struggles to match up to the movie it’s promoting, thrashing against a straightjacket of secrecy. The plot synopsis won’t help you either, pandering to the expectations that this is just another stomach turner in the vein of The Evil Dead, simply saying, “Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen.” It rightly omits the eye-popping surprises and the dual plot between white-collar workers and the hapless teens that keeps the audience in the know without sacrificing the suspense.
The characters who are left in the dark are extremely likeable and their vernacular is straight from the Whedonverse. Lines like, “I’m going to go home and liberate my cabinets,” are tinged with surreal humour and when a horny high schooler discovers a two-way mirror to a girl’s bedroom, he admits to enduring “an internal battle, blood shed on both sides.” Some of the group even resemble well-known members of Whedon’s world, as stoner Marty (Kranz) plays Xander to Kristen Connolly’s Willow-esque Dana. You wind up rooting for the victims instead of wishing them dead – a rarity in this genre – and the script helpfully offers hilarity in between moments of the tripwire tension.
The Cabin In The Woods serves up something utterly unique to a genre that’s been done to, well, death. The Eli Roths of the industry have come up with thousands of hideous ways to exit this world in rigorous torture porn sessions, but The Cabin In The Woods doesn’t need to rely on gore to put the frighteners on. Sure, limbs don’t always stay attached and the camera lens doesn’t always dodge the blood splatters, but the idea behind it is so refreshingly new that it will appeal to horror fans and those that hate it in equal measure.
Meet the new killer of the horror genre, he’s smart, calculated, and has a GSOH.