Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson
Directed by: Drew Goddard (debut)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“Firefly”) and Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield”)
The horror-film collaboration from cult-favorite Joss Whedon (TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly”) and “Cloverfield” writer Drew Goddard has been long discussed. Completed in late 2009, “The Cabin in the Woods” had been shelved for three years due to the financial woes at MGM. But with a new home at Lionsgate, and the not-so coincidental impending release of Whedon’s “The Avengers,” the film is finally seeing the light of day. With Goddard stepping behind the camera for the first time and Whedon penning the screenplay, “Cabin” is a somewhat meta horror/comedy that unfortunately falls into the same trappings of the genre it’s satirizing.
As a group of five friends travel to a remote cabin in the woods, they find strange and sinister things beginning to happen all around them. Meanwhile, in a secret bunker underground, a group of scientists watch the group of campers on video screens. Their task? To play a sort of puppet master to the horrors happening inside the cabin.
Led by Kristen Connolly (TV’s “Guiding Light”), “Cabin” features a large cast of lesser known actors. While none of the characters are particularly fleshed out, Connolly does a decent job as the typical innocent virgin you’d find in other cliché horror movies. A pre-“Thor” Chris Hemsworth joins the cast and is given the role of the stereotypical high-school jock. Even though he looks way too old to be in high school, the character is poked fun at by always carrying a football and wearing a letterman jacket. The most interesting characters are Bradley Whitford (TV’s “The West Wing”) and Academy Award-nominee Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”), who play the two scientists watching the events take place from their mysterious base. A lot of the winking and jabs at the horror genre are written into the script for Whitford and Jenkins. Their dialogue almost serves as a kind of commentary track you’d find in the special features of a DVD.
From early on in the film, it is obvious that Whedon and Goddard aim to present their audience with a familiar horror movie set-up and then turn everything on its side and change the game. The issue? Even though it’s by design, it’s still painfully familiar. The kids are picked off one by one in traditional slasher- movie style. The kids fall into traps horror fans are accustomed to and nothing is very original. The early twists are also extremely obvious from the get-go. Whedon and Goddard try to separate their film from the typical horror movie by subtly making fun of the situations, but the concept fails because many of its working parts are far too similar to generic horror to register as parody. The humor is extremely hit or miss and the film isn’t particularly frightening, save for the occasional cheap jump scare. While the audience should know that things are cliché by design, it’s hard to tell when they’re supposed to be in on the joke.
Without giving away the ultra-protected details, the final act of the film culminates into what amounts to every genre fan’s fantasy. Although underwhelming and gimmicky, the scenes that take place around this particular event are the first in the film that felt remotely original. It’s pretty clear Whedon and Goddard made this film to ridicule what modern horror has become. The problem, however, lies in the execution. They end up spending far too much time (at least an hour of the 95 minute runtime) creating a generic horror film. Unfortunately, their commentary isn’t sharp or engaging enough and as a result, they’ve created a mediocre entry of their own.
This film was screened as a part of SXSW 2012.