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Horror By Design

Monday, April 16, 2012

Before you proceed, a word of warning. You've probably seen said warnings on other reviews, but I cannot overstate this enough. If you have not seen The Cabin in the Woods yet, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, click that "Take a Leap" button. There will be spoilers aplenty, and believe me when I say, you do not want to be privy to any spoilers when you go into this movie. All you need to know is this. The Cabin in the Woods is sort of being advertised as your standard slasher flick where a bunch of teens do stupid things and get butchered, but hear me when I say that it is not! Cabin in the Woods is a smart, funny, scary, devilishly clever take on the horror genre that breathes new life into what was fast becoming one of the most predictable style of movies around. Boasting genuine scares and thrills, an instantly quotable script, and a premise too ingenious for words, Cabin in the Woods is one you cannot afford to miss. And that's it. If you haven't seen it, stop right here. Leave! Vanish!

Are they gone? Good. Now, all you who have seen it, click that button and let's get into it.

This is the work of Loki!

Cabin opens with two scientists, Hadley and Sitterson, bustling around a high-tech complex, and preparing for... something. Then, we jump to five college kids, all of whom fill out your classic horror tropes to the tee. You have you hot hunk of man meat in Curt. You have his wild thing, hotter than the sun girlfriend in Jules. You have the seemingly innocent, cute but shy damsel in Dana. You have the bookish, do-gooder in Holden. And you have the perpetually stoned jokester in Marty. One afternoon, all five of these guys load up into the ol' RV and hit the road, headed for a remote cabin that supposedly belongs to Curt's cousin. Once there, strange things start happening, and people start to die. And it is all tied into what Sitterson and Hadley are doing in that high-tech complex. It is soon revealed that this is only one in a series of scenarios spanning the globe, and soon, I shit you not, the fate of the world is at stake.

Now, the trailers did hint at the whole "there's someone controlling the strings" idea that this movie is all about, but it really only scratches the surface. You know how you always wonder why the people in these movies always act the way they do, going for a walk alone, or investigating the clearly dangerous basement? Well, Cabin comes up with a grand explanation for all that. See, those scientist guys really are pulling all the strings, and this includes flooding the area with gasses that cause the characters to behave in these dumb ways. And it's actually that much scarier when you see how these characters really aren't the typical horror archetypes at all. They are actually real people. Sure, Curt is a muscular behemoth with the supermodel girlfriend, but he's also a smart guy with an eye for authors and a charming air. The seemingly innocent Dana is a bookworm and a shy one, but she's also had an illicit affair with her professor. Nothing in this film is what you would expect. Tons of credit must be levied to writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.

The cast all performs admirably. Chris Hemsworth is a bundle of alpha male intensity as Curt, funny, touching, and totally ok with taking absurd risks to fend off the ghouls that come a'knocking. He's looking a little thinner than usual, but since this thing was actually made before he picked up the thunder god's hammer, it's easy to ignore. Kristen Connolly is perfectly suited to take on the "female hero" role, but bringing more charm, grace, and sass to it than has been seen in eons. And Fran Kranz as the stoned, conspiracy spewing Marty is wonderful. Hilarious and heartfelt, he fires on all cylinders and really delivers.

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are the two string pulling scientist, and they are quite the righteous hoot. While everyone else is running around screaming and getting dismembered, these two are busy flicking switches and buttons, all the while bickering about the state of things and how they hoped they would have had the chance to use certain tools. They are both fantastic.

Like the rest of this movie, the performances here defy your lowly expectations and turn out to be surprising and wonderful. Everyone does a good job, and is clearly having a great time as genre convention after genre convention is led to the chopping block.

All that guy wanted was a cup of sugar, you bitch!

Enough credit cannot be given to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, in his directorial debut. What they have done is simply marvelous. They have taken the horror genre, stripped it down to its bare essentials, added the ingredients of a clever premise, and then cut completely loose. What they have done is make a film that is equal parts horror and equal parts comedy, and never focusing on one element at the expense of another. Instead, the humor is deftly molded in, and the scares are genuine and truly chilling. As the teens slowly begin to die off, the level of suspense is ratcheted way up, so that when we get to the batshit insane finale, you have been taken on quite the ride.

And that finale really is insane. Where the rest of the movie was your standard horror flick, albeit with all the changes made, Act 3 is where things really get crazy and it's that Cabin in the Woods transforms from a clever satirization of horror films into something truly special and admirable. The final sequence sees every single monster that has ever been conceived in nightmares or stories let loose in the facility, butchering everyone in their path. If you came to this movie looking for blood, that scene will leave you satiated and then still have torrents to serve you. And this mad gauntlet leads to final big reveal, which is of the "over the moon ridiculous with a capitol R" type, and that only makes it even more awesome.

It doesn't hurt that this movie is hilarious! No doubt this has a lot to do with Whedon, who has a way with words that few people can hope to match. So, in between the deaths and the screams, you get scenes of two characters chatting about how annoying baby locks are, or how one character wanted mermen to be the ghouls that would terrorize the teens. But, it's not just dialogue based. A lot of the humor comes from sharp and well thought out jabs at all the horror conventions we take for granted.

There's a sequence where the scientists are observing how the scenario in Japan is going that leads into a hilarious back and forth that presents the differences between Japanese and American horror. At another point, one character is betting on what the monster to kill the teens will be. She picks zombies. She loses. What was actually picked to torment the teens was a "zombie redneck torture family". Specifics, baby. And at another point, the teens run into that crusty old man who runs the decrepit gas station who offers none to subtle warnings about the cabin. You know, who I'm talking about. Every horror movie has that. Well, in this one, that guy is just an actor that the scientists have hired who really hates it when they put him on speaker phone. Priceless.

I really hope that if you haven't seen the movie, you haven't made it this far. I've given away a lot, and there's still more I could have divulged. Seriously, if you haven't seen it, purge your mind of this article and go see it. Cabin in the Woods is awesome, truly excellent, with a loving care put into all facets of its production. Bloody scary and gut bus tingly funny, this is one you will regret missing. How it was sitting in the MGM vault for two years is beyond me. This thing should be let out to bask in glorious sunlight! And it deserves your veneration as well.

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