There is a popular sub-culture in the horror genre – one that is self-aware and self-depreciating, knowing, and a little arch.
If this genre were a character it would twirl it’s mustache and swirl it’s martini because it knows all the tricks of the trade and it also knows how to ply them to its own means.
Arguably the most famous example of this sub-genre would be Scream (and its subsequent sequels), Sean Of The Dead may be considered another although it is not as subversive, and Funny Games may also be included in this group though it takes itself way too seriously and is not as much fun as it’s contemporaries (nor does it intend to be).
These films are as much about exploiting horror conventions as they are about their own (by necessity) convoluted plots.
They enjoy toying with our expectations and making us laugh as much as scream.
The Cabin in the Woods is the latest addition to this group..
Partly written by Joss Whedon (of Buffy and the Star Trek reboot fame) and directed by new-comer Drew Goddard, it is essentially a story of five teenagers who go to, you guessed it, a cabin in the woods; but while the cabin is the foreground of the story, there is an elaborate and strangely appealing background taking place that puts quite a unique spin on what we see happening to these teenagers. To say more would take away the pleasure of seeing this films secrets come to light, and so the summary ends here.
The acting is uniformly above bar with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford adding some well-seasoned spice to their ‘office’ roles, Chris Hemsworth brings his sizable screen presence to the ‘jock’ role (though with the wattage turned down a smite), and Fran Kranz draws every eye to him with all the best laughs as the ‘stoner’.
There are some obvious and not so-obvious horror references here, everything from The Strangers to Hellraiser and I could not help but connect a lot of this movie (entire scenes in fact) to The Evil Dead; but while the kids in Scream were aware of the horror conventions and cliches they continually found themselves in, these teenagers seem to be less in on the joke and therein lies the rub. These are non-horror-savvy kids in a horror-savvy movie so it didn’t entirely gel, at least not all the time. It was never quite funny enough or quite scary enough and so fell just short of the goal post for me.
Having said that, there is lots of fun to be had here – the ‘suit guys’ are surprisingly hilarious and I enjoyed their realistic dialogue (child-proof handles anyone??) the super-bong, the scooby-doo obviousness of the teenagers’ roles, the last magnificently bloody half hour, the special guest star and of course that ending – how great and wonderful is that ending?! I must admit that when we got there and there were two possible finales, I truly didn’t think they’d be brave enough to pick the one they did, it was (for a misanthropist like me) just glorious.