Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Well, that's that

Goddard and Whedon put an old prototype to rest in brilliant fashion in 'The Cabin in the Woods'

The Cabin in the Woods
Lionsgate
Director: Drew Goddard
Screenplay: Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford
Rated R / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Opened April 13, 2012
(out of four)

Oh, The Cabin in the Woods, you think you're so clever, don't you? Sitting there with that smile on your face, gleefully putting the final word on American horror as we know it, and enjoying every minute of it. And you just . . . just . . . well, look at that, I have no retort. You really are that clever - and you know it. Dammit, I love you.

Deconstructing genre is nothing new, and horror has probably been the target more than any other - Scream being probably the most well-known example, Tarantino's Death Proof and Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead being among the best examples.

But what Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon do here is a bit different. The Cabin in the Woods doesn't just take an archetype and play around with it. Instead, the traditional setup - college kids on a road trip . . . at a cabin  . . . with a lake . . . in the middle of the woods - is actually wrapped up inside an entirely different premise altogether. And it is with that premise that the film takes a satirical sledgehammer (albeit an awfully affectionate one) to the genre. This is the mother of all postmodern horror films.

The resulting film is so effective, it renders this particular template all but moot from here on out. I never need to see another movie about horny coeds getting terrorized at a cabin in the woods, because The Cabin in the Woods is all that really needs to be said on the matter. It's been taken as far as it could go.

We know the formula all too well, and Goddard (a Bad Robot veteran, having penned Cloverfield and several episodes of LOST) is counting on it. We meet the virginal (well, close enough) Dana (Kristen Connelly) and her best friend Jules (Anna Hutchison), who's a bit more on the slutty side.

Then there's Jules' alpha male boyfriend, Curt (Chris Hemsworth), complete with the requisite letter jacket, his bookish friend Holden (Jesse Williams), and the stoner burnout Marty (Fran Kranz), who's just along for the ride and doesn't get to hook up with anyone. Together, they've got all the Coed Horror Flick essentials: booze, swimwear, raging hormones, an RV that needs a fill-up, and the collective ability to yell "WOOOO!" in order to profess a feeling of youthful exuberance and freedom.

However, before we're ever introduced to those loveable stock characters, we start with a separate narrative, one that would theoretically belong in a different film. The relationship between the dual storylines becomes more and more clear (and more and more darkly hilarious) as the film moves forward, darting back and forth between the two.

What I love is the way the two play off one another - the sardonic humor of the larger narrative punctuating and commenting on the action in the woods. Exactly how it does that . . . well, that's a secret the film deserves to have kept, for the benefit of all unsuspecting audiences.

If I were Rex Reed, the terrible critic from The New York Observer, I would go right ahead and try to spoil every detail of the story for you, twists and all, and yet I'd get the vast majority of those details spectacularly wrong, almost as if I'd fallen asleep intermittently during the screening and decided to just make things up.

But no, I am not Rex Reed (nor any of the other writers who have inexplicably spoiled the film's secrets), so I'll leave the story at that. In the words of Lucille Bluth, everything else will just be little happy surprises along the way. What I will say is that The Cabin in the Woods is one of those films that's even more fun to revisit, just to catch all the amusing touches and details and jokes embedded throughout. (A certain list on a certain dry-erase board should be of particular interest.)

There's a sense of disappointment that sets in when you see a certain type of movie - even if you went in knowing what you were getting - and it proceeds to give you only the bare minimum that is expected of it. The Cabin in the Woods is the exact opposite of that, one of those cinematic experiences where you joyously go along for a ride you couldn't possibly have been expecting.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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