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CABIN IN THE WOODS, THE (director/writer: Drew Goddard; screenwriter: Joss Whedon; cinematographer: Peter Deming; editor: Lisa Lassek; music: David Julyan; cast: Richard Jenkins (Sitterson), Bradley Whitford (Hadley), Kristen Connolly (Dana), Fran Kranz (Marty), Chris Hemsworth (Curt), Anna Hutchison (Jules), Jesse Williams (Holden), Amy Acker (Lin), Brian White (Truman), Tim De Zarn (Mordecai),Sigourney Weaver (Cameo as the Company Director); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Joss Whedon; Lionsgate; 2011)

Itaims to play fast and loose with the splatter formula.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s the directorial debut of Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard, who pens the tongue-in-cheek screenplay along with Joss Whardon–the film’s producer and writer of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Cabin offers the filmmaker’s love and hate reactions to the horror genre, as it goes off the reservation of the usual shocks and clichés to supply new twists, new silly gory bloodbaths, provides some wit with inside jokes and it takes the tired slasher genre down some strange new roads of frights. It aims to play fast and loose with the splatter formula and give it a few ax chops across its head in a corporate-like takeover style, as it opens itself up to commentary on how important the horror genre has been to films and how each new generation must both embrace the old clichés and invent new ones.

Five college friends–the naive good student virgin Dana (Kristen Connolly), the cynical philosophizing stoner Marty (Fran Kranz), the dumb jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the pretty but ditsy sorority girl Jules (Anna Hutchison) and the black egghead Holden (Jesse Williams)–go by RV for a party-time weekend in the woods at a remote cabin.

At a highly secure facility Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) are two snarky techies who are operating some kind of rogue NASA-like surveillance op in an underground research lab for an enigmatic concern that has screens monitoring the college students on their weekend vacation and on other sites around the world showing annual ritual games–such as in Kyoto and Stockholm. The techies can seemingly control things for the cabin-dwellers by just relaying an order into their control system. They also wickedly, for comic relief, have a company betting pool going on as to which student dies first.

When a basement trapdoor in the cottage suddenly opens during a ‘truth and dare’ game among the students, it reveals the storage of probably all of Hollywood’s occult props and the narrative’s fright effects are set in motion by the techies as the screen becomes littered with backwoods zombies, killer robots, giant monsters, two-way mirrors and mysterious force-fields.

The playful genre bending film, an engaging trifle at best, might be briefly entertaining but falters when the overkill excesses kick in. Though it might be fulfilling to those who love the roller-coaster ride of bumps and jolts in their horror flicks, to the usual dye in the wool fanboys, to the low-brow viewer welcoming back to the genre the revival of a sexploitation pic, to the techie film buffs who can appreciate the well-made scare visuals of this special effects pic, and those open-minded viewers who can dig how unpredictable and chaotic the double narrative turns out for the most part. But is that enough to make it a good film or does it just get over as a cleverly devised artifice? I just don’t see such a vacuous pic as this one, no matter how innovative in trying to be different, as an upgrade for the cheesy horror film genre.

It was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2009, and sat on the shelf until released in 2011.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”