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Cabin in the Woods, The (AF)


Stars: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker, Jodelle Ferland

Director: Drew Goddard

Horrorflick fans are expertly catered for by an ingenious shocker that is also cleverly contrived to flatter genre fanatics with smart references to all kinds of fantastic films. Most notable of these, perhaps, is Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead since the basic story structure is similar – a band of innocents venture into the unknown and face diabolism, danger and death as a bloody consequence.

Here the innocents (a relative term since the characters are vigorous and varied) are college friends Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connelly, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz (providing welcome and well integrated comic relief) and Jesse Williams who set off to spend a weekend in the eponymous isolated cabin only to be pitch-forked into a maelstrom of mounting malevolent terror and bloody death…

And that is where I take refuge in that classic critical comment “To give away any more of the plot would be unfair”. (If I’m honest, I should explain that particular phrase has two meanings in reviews. The first is obvious. Revealing more of the storyline would ruin enjoyment of the film by depriving it of its cleverly contrived surprises. The second meaning is less impressive, relating as it does to its use to cover the fact that the reviewer unfortunately fell asleep during the movie and therefore has no idea what actually transpired!).

Now that that is off my chest, let me stress my refusal to give away Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard’s plot is not dictated by my having napped during the film. Far from it. Shocks and surprises come fast, furious and frequent as the writers twist post-modern riffs on shock-film tropes and add to the impact by framing the nightmare in the woods with showing the unfortunate victims are actually being monitored and controlled by scientists led by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who, in the best style of The Truman Show are watching and tweaking the victims from a laboratory…

(A nice idea, this, especially in view of the plethora of reality shows that currently infest television: even the omnipresent British presenters Ant and Dec aren’t quite as creepy as what transpires here).

The film is scary, suspenseful and blackly comic (acid tongue-in-cheek humour – but whose tongue and whose cheek? – abounds) with dual appeal to both buffs and sensation seekers. Smart special effects create a fertile and satisfyingly nasty menagerie of movie monsters, performances are apt without attempting to hog the screen and derail the story and the script maintains its narrative drive right up to the shock-filled climax. Like Scream and its sequels, it cleverly subverts genre expectations. Unlike Scream, however, a good sequel would be really difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

The film, incidentally, was made in 2009: its delayed release is as a result of studio problems.

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: Lionsgate. Colour by deluxe.
94 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 13 Apr 2012