Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Cabin In The Woods

Youth Served In The Horror Games, By Remote Control

Jesse Williams as Holden and Kristen Connolly as Dana in Drew Goddard's "The Cabin In The Woods". 
Diyah Pera/Lionsgate


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, April 11
, 2012

Drew Goddard's "The Cabin In The Woods" is a droll horror film that constantly comments on horror and the horrors of horror, and on when horror goes horribly wrong and spins out of control.  Take five young, supple, muscular 20-somethings.  Put them on a road trip to a cabin.  Watch them traipse through assorted horror film clichés, have sex, smoke pot and have nasty meetings with blunt asymmetrical contraptions. 

Opening tomorrow night at midnight in the U.S. and Canada, "The Cabin In The Woods" serves up a certain vanity in its endeavor, a voyeurism rewarded by one or two of the most unlikely money shots horror movies can buy.  Its good-looking victims are mirrored by the ugliness of its older, frustrated nerds, fully intent on desecrating and defiling aimless, wasteful youth.  A sunny, haloed glow radiates at the film's start, then like a progressively graying day soon disappears, submerged by a grim foreboding. 

Youth is served, and served up by remote control, by a group of nerdy older people whose industry it is to make an amusement park ride out of horror and offer up the unsuspecting for a perverse blood sacrifice.  This is no ordinary cabin, and the film's pupeteering malefactors, like those in last month's "Hunger Games", have every intent of setting up pitfalls and watching youth bleed dry.  The cynicism of these bloodthirsty control tower elders is blinding, to the point where they even resemble a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan audience's own expectations and frustrations when those who are supposed to be killed don't die. 

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are the captains of this sci-fi ship of gadgetry and gratuity, which features a West Wing of amputees, crawling limbs, snakes, wolves, zombies and the kinds of robotic dolls you've seen in countless horror films.  This duo's expectations are confounded.  The crew of people they lead take bets on who will live and who will die, and how they will perish.  Some of the film's youth, led by a stoner, are funny, but "The Cabin In The Woods" is best if at all as an awkward treatise of survival of the fittest and wiliest.  It is fitting and ironic that the most untutored and innocent will likely prevail amidst such chaos.

Mr. Goddard's film is clever to an extent but increasingly self-distracts and exasperates with its mash-up of different horror varieties.  If you thought Heinz had 57 varieties, then "The Cabin In The Woods" has even more than that in its blender.  A dizzying potpourri of sharp digital effects, abrupt shifts and blood-drenched schlock, the film is a mix of comedy, parody and fetish.  The types of people who are a party to this horror festival are outlined in stark clarity by film's end by an unexpected but welcome surprise guest.  When that person's presence comes it's a nice bit of casting, rounding out and further tilting a film that has long run off the rails on its own train of carnage.

"The Cabin In The Woods" looks at Roger Corman and Dario Argento and other horror-masters and laughs, piling on the gore, the guts, the entrails, so much so that the film, as unpretentious as ever, cannot possibly be taken seriously.  I found the film a pointless exercise overall, and an acquired taste at best.  Likely to be loved or abhorred, "The Cabin In The Woods" gets a point for shaking things up, but its endless distractions ensures that its audience won't settle down.  Timothy Leary once said that it was a long, strange trip, and Mr. Goddard's film turns on, tunes in and drops off the radar much quicker than it should.  Cheekily written by Mr. Goddard and Joss Whedon, the movie has a mischievous streak, displaying its instruments and tools of fatality with relish.

Mr. Goddard squeezes the bottle of ketchup and forgets to let go or loosen his grip or pressure, as his film becomes an exercise in anarchy and nihilism.  It's every beast for themselves, and when you live by the horror sword and drink from its trough you are guaranteed to have its inevitable boomerang effect hit you square in the gut.  This cabin hasn't been vacant for a long time, and even Norman Bates wouldn't have an earthly clue why.

With: Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Amy Acker.

"The Cabin In The Woods" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America, for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity.  The film's running time is one hour and 35 minutes.

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