Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods
Dir. Drew Goddard

4 out of 5

Horror films, by and large, allow us an opportunity to assert ourselves in the face of fear. We are probably startled, perhaps disgusted, and maybe a little anxious, but all that is nothing compared to what is plausibly scary in the real world. Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods is deliciously implausible, but also truly disturbing in how it anticipates exactly how we expect to feel watching a scary movie and delivers that intoxicating sensation until it has us where it really wants us.

The premise is deliberately familiar. Four friends make a weekend getaway to rustic cabin near a remote lake: shy Dana (Kristen Connolly), horny couple Curt (Chris Hemsworth) and Jules (Anna Hutchison), and nonthreatening newcomer Holden (Jessie Williams), who nails the rare triple archetype as the romantic bait and the surprisingly bookish jock and the token nonwhite. Also tagging along is their stoner buddy Marty (Fran Kranz), whose paranoid and pseudo-anarchic ramblings are actually the film's sole source of reason. Too bad his friends are dumb horror film protagonists and merely view this as a cute eccentricity. But as the situation turns increasingly suspicious, they are at least smart enough to recognize the parts they are playing and the fabricated drama that surrounds it: the old coot who acts as the harbinger of doom, the creepy taxidermy, the mysterious cellar door.

Meanwhile, in some sort of security compound, two chatty technicians (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) watch surveillance footage and hint that the nubile youngsters are actually part of a larger plan, one that has to do the fundamental nature of terror. That's really the meat of The Cabin in the Woods, which belies its off-the-shelf title with a madcap explication of genre tropes. Joss Whedon's script is more mash-up than deconstruction, presenting novel juxtapositions (It's H.P. Lovecraft meets Scream! It's Evil Dead meets Clive Barker!) without a whole lot of analysis. It doesn't really attempt to explain where fears come from, but instead shows how easy they are to manipulate. The film's climax - which I applaud the studio for keeping secret, even if it would make a fine selling point with some key demographics - essentially proves that you can make people afraid of just about anything, whether it is based in a taboo of the distant past or rises from the twisted imagination of a screenwriter.

Shelved for nearly three years due to MGM's financial woes and nearly (but thankfully not) converted to 3-D, The Cabin in the Woods has been worth the wait. That's quite the journey for a movie based on a fait accompli. The film has plenty of twists that keep the adrenaline pumping, but they're also used against the audience to attain a level of suspense that the average horror flick couldn't reach with a ladder. By constantly juggling the inevitable and the unknown, Cabin suggests that despite our morbid obsession with tales of ghosts and ghouls and bloody murder, fear is not something we can control - at best, it's only something we keep at bay.

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