Film review: The Cabin in the WoodsBy Kim Francis
April 18, 2012
A genre-mashing horror flick from the joint penmanship of cult Firefly/Buffy/Angel creator Joss Whedon and Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard, you say? Yes please.
On paper, The Cabin in the Woods excites, with its promise of action mixed with horror, and its pledge of a dash of sci-fi, a smattering of satire and a dose of deliciously dry wit to stoke the fires of anticipation.
But something sort of screwy happens as Whedon and Goddard try to transfer their TV writing skills (Goddard has written episodes of Lost and Alias as well as Angel and Buffy) to the big screen, and they find the 90-minute format with all its constraints compromises them too much.
That isn’t to say that The Cabin in the Woods is irredeemable; it’s just that with hopes so high, it’s hugely disappointing that its potential is never reached.
It begins in traditional slasher flick fashion.
Channelling Friday the 13th, a group of young people, including Thor himself, Aussie hunk Chris Hemsworth, head off to a remote log cabin for a hedonistic getaway. But despite warnings of trouble ahead, they end up getting more – much more – than they bargained for. Will they get out alive? Though The Cabin in the Woods is aimed squarely at the same audience that lapped up Buffy and Angel, the film relies too heavily on frat pack humour and on sending up the horror genre.
Where British filmmakers like Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and Paul Andrew Williams (The Cottage) have gone on to make credible and effective comedy horrors since then, for every Shaun, there are a gazillion Lesbian Vampire Killers – proving that these days good comedy-horrors are the exception rather than the rule and it’s incredibly tricky to strike the right balance between the two seemingly disparate genres.
A couple of films that pre-date all of these, The Evil Dead (and its sequels) and An American Werewolf in London, get the balance spot on to create cult favourites that are simultaneously smart, scary, funny and cool, and this is what The Cabin in the Woods aspires to be.
However, the film tips too heavily in favour of laboured, obvious humour at the expense of creating genuine moments of horror and, as a result, it suffers.
In its favour, the story is unpredictable and original, if only in its splicing together of genres.
It’s true to say that in the best postmodernist fashion, it references films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Cube, Deliverance, My Little Eye, the recent The Hunger Games and numerous other influences, and it’s a wildly bewildering ride for the viewer.
But in its efforts to squeeze so much into its 95 minute running time, it becomes jack of all trades, master of none. This means scares are minimal, gore is diminished and humour too broad and not inventive enough. It never gives enough of any one thing to fully satisfy.
A great shame; it could have been so much more.