Two more days to Halloween (Halloween, Halloween) so it's time to bring out the big guns, and there's no recent horror film much bigger than this year's The Cabin in The Woods. Now I'm not one for spoilers, so I'm going to attempt to write this without giving the game away... which isn't going to be easy. Safe to say the tag line of "You think you know the story" has never been more appropriate. Quite frankly, you don't.
Directed, written and produced by a dream team of Drew Goddard (Buffy, Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon (Buffy again, Firefly, The Avengers), Cabin in The Woods is a film that totally defies expectations, whilst at the same time intensely satisfying them. It pokes a whole lot of fun at the horror genre (referencing a tonne of classics in it's wake), whilst never letting it's grip of the tension go slack, and at the same time creating something truly original, surprising and downright terrifying.
It's the weekend and five college kids looking for fun and frolics are heading on a road trip into the woods to stay at a remote cabin. They are your stereotypical cannon fodder - the jock, the cheerleader, the stoner, the intellectual/sensitive type and the virgin. On the road the five encounter a deserted gas station with a very creepy attendant, a harbinger of doom if you like, who warns them obliquely of the perils that lay ahead. In fact we've already been primed that bad stuff is going to happen with a fascinating credit sequence featuring ominous scenes of death, destruction, fire and brimstone, all graphically enhanced in a deep blood red glow. The rest of the film doesn't disappoint.
As their campervan heads back on the road and towards their final destination, a birds eye view surveys their journey (shades of the opening to The Shining?) through a beautiful and foreboding landscape, and an eagle flies gracefully overhead... Once arrived at the cabin, things start to get weird. A game of truth or dare brings on some very strange behaviour, and once the cellar door springs sharply open, all bets are off and the game has well and truly begun.
Goddard and Whedon handle the suspense perfectly whilst never giving too much away. The drama is set up early doors so we know from near the outset things aren't quite what they seem. However not until the stupendous final denouement do we discover what dark and terrible secrets lay beneath the cabin's floorboards. The script itself is sharp and witty enough to engage even the most sceptical of viewers, without being cheesy or too formulaic. Performance wise there's not a duff note played amongst the leads. Fran Kanz is the standout as the Shaggy-like stoner Marty whilst Kristin Connolly does an excellent turn as the prudish yet steely Dana. Look out also for a surprising cameo from a cult player of horror movies past...
Cabin in The Woods has references a plenty for spotters. Evil Deads 1 and 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Silence of The Lambs, Friday 13th, Hellraiser and Wolf Creek are just a few of the classics given a nod and a wink to in passing. But in no way is the film just a series of homages to your favourite horror films. Deep down it slyly explores why and how we love being scared whilst also making a comment on what that says about us. And if all this sounds like some sterile scientific experiment analysing the rules of the genre, then think again. Cabin in The Woods is a thrilling ride into unexpected and uncharted waters.
It's difficult to see where the horror film can go from Cabin in The Woods. What new and surprising twists can be brought to a genre that looks to have been bled dry? In a month where Paranormal Activity 4 (yawn!) is opening as well as a rerun of The Shining (albeit with extra footage), things aren't looking that fresh or exciting for horror fans. It's to Goddard and Whedon's credit that they have created a proper bar-raiser, leaving the rest of their peers trailing in their wake. I mean, who knew that unicorns could be so deadly?
Truth or Dare...