Thursday, April 12, 2012

'Cabin in the Woods' delivers the goods with gore, glee

BY AARON SAGERS

The kids check into the Cabin, Courtesy Lionsgate
I don’t want to tell you anything about The Cabin in the Woods. That’s how good it is.

The film with the tagline “You Think You Know The Story” started to tell me too much in the previews I was being exposed to, so - after the raves I heard about it after its SXSW debut - I tried to tune everything out. This is a movie that the less you know about it, the more you’ll enjoy it. So that’s the approach I’ll take.

What can I reveal about the much-anticipated movie by co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, and helmed by first-time feature film director Goddard?

There will be blood. Lots of it. But there will also be gore and unfettered glee. And Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is in it.

Okay, I’ll give you a little more:

The plot of five college kids - horror archetypes of the jock (Hemsworth), tramp (Anna Hutchison), egghead (Jesse Williams), virgin (Kristen Connolly) and stoner (Fran Kranz) - who arrive at the titular spooky cabin and must face off against a deadly threat isn’t really the plot. The movie reveals early on that there is more to the classic horror setup which involves the kids being observed by something greater than themselves (as represented by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford).

The fate that awaits the cabin-dwellers is the stuff of nightmares, and that “stuff” is recognizable for a reason. Anyone who hid under the covers with a flashlight as a kid after seeing a scary movie or reading a monster comic knows there is no limit to the ghastly ghouls that threaten to slice, dice and devour us. Whedon and Goddard (who is clearly a Sam Raimi fan) know it too. They use those unlimited fears and horror tropes to toy with, and amuse, us.

Kranz looks like he's been stoned, courtesy Lionsgate
While Cabin plays with genre conventions, the film isn’t a deconstruction that should be grouped with Scream as much as it is an evolution and homage along the lines of Shaun of the Dead. It has fun with the scares, and is also a valentine to horror fans who know their stuff and see the twists coming without ever becoming too predictable. I actually giggled to myself a few times when I saw a killer setup present itself a few seconds before my non-horror and casual horror-fan guests.

Still, even though Cabin is one of the more clever horror flicks to come around in a few years, it’s not “hard” horror. Cabin isn’t terrifying but it is a good roller coaster with enough loopty-loops to make it worth the price of a seat, but it aims for the fun and shocks of the head and funny bone instead of trying to rattle the soul and unsettle us to the point of a sleepless night. It earns its R-rating for “bloody horror violence and gore,” “drug use,” and “sexuality/nudity,” but it never goes for the uncomfortable visuals that would prevent it from being a mainstream success.

But while a slight weakness, this is also a good thing - even for horror geeks. It shows that a scary movie can indeed be lower-case “scary” while being fresh but familiar, and tweaking expectations while also feeding into them without over-relying on viscera. (In fact, those fresh tweaks resulted in more “sweet,” “awesome” and “Yes!” audience interjections I’ve heard in a while – and especially from a press screening.)

It is worth logging a few hours in The Cabin in the Woods. Try to see it without knowing too much about it, but even if you think you know the story, you don’t know half of it

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