Friday, January 4, 2013
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
In 1996 writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven coined the self-referential slasher picture and turned it into pulp art with SCREAM. Yet, despite the best efforts of these and other filmmakers, no similar movie since has matched its perfect blend of humor and fear. Now writer-turned-director Drew Goddard joins Joss Whedon (who co-writes with Goddard and produces) to fashion what wants to be the last word in self-aware horror. In an underground installation Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) prepare for an important, highly sensitive project. Meanwhile five college students prepare for a weekend at a remote cabin. Each student falls into a generic horror movie type: studious and somewhat naïve Dana (Kristen Connolly), athletic and libidinous Curt (Chris Hemsworth), alluring party girl Jules (Anna Hutchison), smart but sensitive Holden (Jesse Williams), and drug-addled wiseacre Marty (Fran Kranz). We soon learn that our project managers have lured our stereotypes to a ritual sacrifice in which the students will be the offering. The method of sacrifice varies depending on how the victims choose to transgress, but all potential methods involve well-established horror tropes. The unseen string-pullers put the beautiful victims through their paces, picking them off one by one, until the plan goes terribly awry and threatens the world as we know it. The scares are regular and effective in the film’s first half, thanks to a game cast and a smart script that provides clever and resourceful characters. Once the cabin recedes and the manipulative, results-oriented managers emerge as the real villains, however, the jolts become more cerebral and less fun. Craven and company clearly took joy in scaring the pants off viewers, eliciting laughs and screams in equal measure. Goddard and Whedon, on the other hand, work too hard to savor their own creation, and the effort begins to show in the second half. As the film grinds to its gruesome, outlandish conclusion, the audience will likely feel as exhausted and battered as the bloodied survivors.