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“You think you know the story.”
This is the tagline to ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, a film directed by Drew Goddard (‘Cloverfield’) which he also co-wrote with Joss Whedon (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, ‘The Avengers’).
It stars Kristen Connolly (‘As the World Turns’), Jesse Williams (‘Grey’s Anatomy’) and Bradley Whitford (‘The West Wing’), as well as familiar Whedon collaborators Amy Acker (‘Angel’), Fran Kranz (‘Dollhouse’) and Tom Lenk (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’). The film’s basic set-up is one you have seen one hundred times before in horror films: a group of attractive, mismatched young college students travel to a remote area, stay in a mysterious location, and soon realise that there is more to the cabin in the woods than meets the eye.
Here enters the tagline. “You think you know the story.”
Last year, Wes Craven attempted to reinvigorate the horror genre with ‘Scream 4′ in the same way that he did with the original ‘Scream’ in 1996. However, for all its strengths, ‘Scream 4′ was basically a re-tread of the same meta-textual style that Craven had already mastered in the franchise’s three previous installments.
Now, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard? They have created a true gem of the genre with ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, a film which was filmed in 2009 and has sat on the shelf ever since distributor MGM filed for bankruptcy. Lionsgate eventually bought the film last year, and now its delayed big-screen life can begin.
The first and most important strength of the film is its script. Goddard’s familiarity with Whedon’s voice – Goddard wrote 5 episodes of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel’ – results in an effortlessly snappy piece and several hilarious, not to mention ironic, interactions, primarily caused by Whitford’s and Kranz’s characters.
The script is never afraid to go for the comedy or the surreality of the situation, and it is this which allows the film to pull of its main conceit of being – SPOILER WARNING – about a ritual sacrifice for the ancient Gods, who are appeased through a ‘Big Brother’-type reality show where bets are made and outcomes are fixed as an array of undead creatures begin hunting down the five young college students to satiate the tempers of the Gods.
The script also thrives on its eagerness to play out every horror narrative cliché in the first half of the film, as Whedon and Goddard blow through gratuitous deaths and yawn-inducing twists, allowing the second half of the film to develop like a filmmaker’s playing ground.
Visually speaking, the second half of the film is when Godddard’s direction can be more fully appreciated, as it becomes more apparent that he assimilated the conventional look of a horror film early on so that he could subvert and deconstruct it piece by piece as each scene goes on. The chances he takes in the script are brought to life marvellously onscreen, while the final shot of the film is something which can only be appreciated in the context of everything that has gone before.
As for the cast, there are no issues. Whedon and Goddard have worked on enough ensemble projects to know how to cast well, and Whedon in particular is known for drawing from his own pool of actors from past projects and putting them into his new ones.
The pay-off here is a fantastic one, as Whedon fans (‘Whedonites’, for the uninitiated) get to see an underrated television performer like Amy Acker going toe-to-toe in scenes with Emmy-winner Bradley Whitford, and get to revel in ‘Dollhouse’-alum Fran Kranz facing off with – SPOILER WARNING - “The Sci-Fi Queen” Sigourney Weaver in the film’s captivating final minutes.
To say any more about the film is unnecessary. This is a delightfully fearless offering, and the most entertaining thing to happen to the horror genre in a very long time. Whedon has a busy year ahead of him, mainly with this summer’s blockbuster ‘The Avengers’, and ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ gets him off to a roaring start.
Image Courtesy of The Cabin in the Woods