Directed by: Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth
While he may subscribe to many of the cliques and tropes of expected genre conventions, Joss Whedon makes a good film—with whatever genre he is working in.
The film has a very standard slasher film plot. A group of five young teenagers go into the woods on a retreat and quickly discover that the cabin they are staying at is not what it seems. However, it soon becomes apparent that this story is the part of a much larger conspiracy that provides a surprising collection of laughs and thrills.
Cabin in the Woods is a surprisingly smart satire of a genre that has devolved into pointless brutality of the Saw and Hostel style—this film is not what one would expect. There are still gory deaths, with a handful of nasty surprises—including the use of a bear trap that would make Dwight Schrute cringe—but every death feels like a loss of a character whom the viewer has an attachment to, rather than an object to be mauled, maimed or massacred.
The characters themselves are not constructed archetypes. The film drugs them and the viewer into making them horror archetypes—Kristen Connolly stars as “the virginal” hero, Chris Hemsworth plays “the athlete,” Jesse Williams as “the scholar,” Anna Hutchison as “the harlot,” and Franz Kranz is “the fool.” The performances are all fairly strong—Kranz’s ironically insightful pot-head character steals every scene he is in and brings a degree of comedy uncommon for horror films.
Unfortunately, several of these characters don’t get enough screen time to fully blossom. As these characters become archetypes of the conventional American horror film, writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon turn these conventions on their side making the viewer aware of the individual’s conformity to archetype and the characters’ attempts to break out of both their physical and social constraints. This technique allows for a sense of moral outrage with what is being watched, that almost allows for a self-reflexive voice.
Unfortunately, Cabin in the Woods doesn’t take its self-aware and darkly comedic nature to its logical conclusion. The narrative outside of the expected narrative is exactly what a person would expect. Like The Hunger Games, it doesn’t take a serious stab at harsh and biting societal commentary—it cannot jump that chasm. The world outside the cabin is still a part of the fantasy that Whedon and Goddard try to critique and the ending suffers as a result.
Thematically, the ending doesn’t work because, like most American fantasies, Cabin in the Woods values the individual narcissism over collective good. Director Drew Goddard doesn’t allow the horror of that system of individualist values to be fully expressed, and as a result, the ending is ridiculous and melodramatic. The film makes good use of its awareness of its audience in the first act, but it doesn’t use it as slyly as it could have been used.
However, Cabin in the Woods is still a film that in a small way redeems the horror film genre and presents the possibility of a better cinematic experience. Whedon and Goddard create a shocking smart and hilarious satire of the horror genre.
Cabin in the Woods will be released in theatres on Friday, April 13.