[Review] - Cabin In The Woods, "Have You Ever Even Seen A Moose?"

The only movie I can think to compare Cabin in the Woods, a tour de force by writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, is Alfred Hitchock's Psycho. Like that film, Cabin upends both convention and expectation by delighting in, and subverting, the standard cliches of the genre. And, like Psycho, it has so many twists (but not in a Shyamalan, sort of way; in a way that makes sense), in beginning, middle and end, that it is a movie that needs to be watched unspoiled, which in the modern environment, won't last very long.

I mean ever word of the next sentence as literally as possible: you must see this movie. Movie, because this isn't a film that is trying to win awards, or change the world; see, because this is a movie that cannot be enjoyed by reading the wikipedia description; and must, because it may well be the first truly great movie of 2012. Which is, of course, a lie. It is one of the great films of 2009, but I'm much happier to have it late then not at all.

To read the spoiler free review, hit the jump.

The real stars of this movie are Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, two blue collar guys just doing a job, getting flack from their bosses, and trying to irk out a living. The first five minutes or so, watching them banter about the minutia of their lives, like we'd stepped into an episode of Seinfeld, is both brilliant and disorienting, and is the perfect set up to a film that never fulfils expectations. It's a 95 min Kansas City Shuffle. You think their going left, but the film ducks right, then comes up behind you with a telescopic bong. It's also a swift 95 mins, an economy of storytelling without filler or the unnecessary. Everything that is here, is here for a reason. Whedon and Goddard wrote the script in three days, and it's obvious from the first syllable that they were on their game.

Let's remember 2009. Dollhouse had just premiered on FOX, and Whedon was once again feeling the unpleasant, seemingly all powerful hand of the network, watching him from afar and directing his movements. The series would last two years, and is easily the worst thing Whedon has done in which he had direct control over. But he didn't have control, not really. He thought he did, but FOX was just leading him where they wanted him to go, and where it led was cancellation.

Really, if you want a description of the plot, you're out of luck. The trailer certainly tells you a familiar tale, the nubile youths going out to the woods to smoke some sex, and have their drugs. And that's a way to get butts in the seats. But it doesn't even scratch the surface. And to say anything beyond that will ruin the surprise. Trust me, you want to be surprised.

15 years ago (really, time, 15 years? I hate you), Whedon introduced us to Buffy, and since then, has proven over and over that he really does not like standard conventions. Were he ordering a meal, he'd go off menu. His vampiric metaphors were different, his cowboys lived in space (or, his spacemen rode horses, now there is a philosophical debate), his toys played with you. And that is what Cabin is really about, getting away from standard conventions, while still using their untapped potential. All the cliches are still in place, but they are given explanation. Why do, in every horror movie ever, the same characters do the same things over and over. In the real world, it's lazy, unimaginative writing. In the fictional world, their is a very important, very specific reason that all of this has happened before, and all of it must happen again.

The so called 'Buffy-speak' is back, and sometimes you forget how much you miss the simple things. Whedon's signature rhythms are as distinct as Elmore Leonard, Quentin Tarentino, or Aaron Sorkin. You can pick them up in just a few lines. The whimsy attitude Whedon's character's take towards the English language, adding and subtracting prefixes and suffixes, and blindly mashing words together. Like it or not, Whedon had an influence on the modern vernacular while Buffy was on air, and I think to a lot of the primary audience of Cabin, it's a return to the familiar. Goddard would have had no issue falling into the same rhythm, having worked for many years at the Buffy school of noun verbification.

The negatives. Huh, not many. Chris Hemsworth, late of Thor, but an unknown and newcomer to the US when this was made 3 years ago, hadn't quite gotten the American accent just right, just yet, and often times slips back into his native Australian. The last fifteen minutes are exposition heavy, but honestly, that is a nitpick. The information comes to us at an organic moment, and is delivered by the perfect messenger, so you don't notice that it is essentially a Doc Brown's Blackboard moment.

Even Whedon himself cannot escape convention, though mostly his own. The young characters aren't well defined, as is usual in horror movies, but I was expecting Whedon, and his love of characters, to breath some depth into them before they get hacked to pieces. But instead, he falls back on the characters he knows well. The redhead is nervous and self effacing, the comedic relief is hyper aware and a bit of a nebbish, the blond is the alpha (though significantly more slutty then Buf). I can't honestly say I remember any of their names. But they aren't the important characters. They are the means. As I said when I started, the real stars are the guys doing the job. I cannot go into detail about other characters without spoiling big things, but keep an eye out for some Whedon-esque familiar faces (and a large chunk of the cast of Stargate: Universe, thus revealing that Cabin was filmed in Canada).

Part of the fun of Cabin is catching things. This will undoubtably become a party favourite, seeing if you can name all the references. The cabin from the title is clearly Evil Dead, right down to an early shot filmed from ground level, a very Rami-esque position. I spent the film shouting out titles as I spotted the references. Through out, you can see the finger prints of the classics of the genre, and Whedon even gets a dig or two at himself. To say that Buffy might have fit into this universe might not be that strange an idea.

I will give you one hint at a spoiler: Whedon has a favourite film that is usually referenced in each of his works in some way, and boy howdy does it get a couple humdingers here. Good luck.

And life lesson: never read the Latin.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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