The Cabin in the Woods has had a torturous journey from concept to screen to say the least. That production wrapped in May 2009 only for its release to be shelved until April 2012 suggests an unloved bastard of a film, but the reality is far more complex. Its original release of 2010 was pushed to 2011 so it could be converted to 3D, but then that was dropped altogether when production company MGM filed for bankruptcy, and its only now that after Lionsgate swooped in and rescued it for release that director and co-writer Drew Goddard and producer and co-writer Joss Whedon’s comedy horror has become available for public consumption.
It’s heartening that now it’s out there in the ether, that not only is praise for it near unanimous, but seemingly everyone has gone to great lengths to keep their thoughts as free from spoilers as possible (and all equally understanding the inherent hypocrisy in writing about a film to explain why you shouldn’t read up about it before seeing it). So to add to this symphony of appreciation, here is my brief chorus, for The Cabin in the Woods is the most entertaining horror film since Drag Me To Hell.
And the reason your instant reaction is to gush your guts rather than spill the beans is not because there is some grand central twist. We’re not in Shyamalan rug-pulling final reel territory. Indeed, the very first scene (with the superb Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) should instantly signal that things are not what they seem. Nor is it a film that will necessarily lose its impact through multiple viewings once the surprises are known. Rather, the craft and consideration that has gone into making the plot machinations click so wonderfully should be experienced fresh and untainted.
The clichés Goddard and Whedon stick slavishly to – a group of stereotypical college kids on a weekend trip to some run-down backwoods holiday home – seem so tedious at first, I thought my mind was made up 20 minutes in. So far, so Tucker and Dale Vs Evil. But just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, another layer is revealed with expert timing and execution, and the scope of the story just gets ever wider and more interesting, building and building to an insane climax which will be talked about for years to come, mark my words.
If there are criticisms to be had, they’re minor. There is a murkiness to the night-time scenes where the action is barely comprehensible (it’s just as well the 3D conversion was dropped as it would have made half of the film impenetrably dark a la Fright Night). And having not really gotten into Buffy or Firefly, some of the trademark Whedon zingy dialogue left me a little cold (am I the only one who cringes every time they hear that “We have a Hulk” line in The Avengers trailer?).
But the joy of The Cabin in the Woods is that it’s meta but never ironic or overly cynical. The gags are broad enough in their frame of reference so as not to alienate the casual cinemagoer, but with enough nods to get fanboys and gorehounds all a flutter. It is clever but never tricksy. It breaks the rules, but never breaks its own rules. Even a title as generic as The Cabin in the Woods is as much a commentary on the film as the film’s own commentary on the film itself. I think.
As effective and hilarious a skewering of horror convention as Galaxy Quest was to Star Trek, or Starship Troopers was to macho jingoistic bullshit, the Evil Dead remake is going to have a very hard time seeming in any way relevant in its sizeable genre-busting wake.
The Cabin in the Woods is released on 13th April.