Cabin fever con­ta­gion

It’s hugely en­ter­tain­ing but this hor­ror homage gets out of con­trol, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

105 min

16 cert, gen re­lease, SO WE’RE BACK here again. Are we? In 1996 Wes Craven’s Scream un­leashed self-con­scious hell on un­sus­pect­ing hor­ror fans. It took the in­dus­try some time to re­cover from the shock of be­ing show­ered in its own in­nards. But the rise of Asian hor­ror even­tu­ally pushed film-mak­ers to­wards a school of ghostly sur­re­al­ism. Then the pseudo-genre that was tor­ture porn blud­geoned its way into the base­ment.

In truth, the meta-pulp that fol­lowed Scream rapidly be­came more cliched than the ma­te­rial it sought to de­con­struct. Ab­bot and Costello meet Franken­stein had

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more to say about hor­ror con­ven­tions than did I Know What You Did Last Sum­mer. Good rid­dance.

Still, if we must re­turn to this par­tic­u­lar trough we may as well do so in the com­pany of Joss Whe­don. The cre­ator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer knows a thing or two about plac­ing in­verted com­mas round his char­ac­ters with­out ren­der­ing the ac­tion too in­di­gestibly arch.

Work­ing with Buffy col­lab­o­ra­tor Drew God­dard, the pro­ducer and writer pulls it off again in Cabin in the Woods. The film is more fun than watch­ing a snake swal­low its own tail.

Mak­ing life easy for re­view­ers, God­dard and Whe­don take the un­usual step of re­veal­ing the “twist” be­fore the core plot is prop­erly up and run­ning. The Cabin in the Woods fol­lows a group of nu­bile young peo­ple as they at­tempt to re­pel rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the un­dead while hol­i­day­ing in a re­mote cot­tage. The archetypes are all in place. Holden (Jesse Wil­liams) is a re­spon­si­ble hon­ours stu­dent. Jules (Anna Hutchi­son) en­joys booze and boys. Curt (Chris Helmsworth) is ex­actly the sort of jock de­ity you’d ex­pect to see por­trayed by Mar­vel’s Thor. Dana (Kris­ten Con­nolly) comes close to be­ing a vir­gin.

You know how these things go. More to the point, you know how meta-de­con­struc­tions of these things go. The mo­bile phones lose re­cep­tion. A scary maniac at a de­serted gas sta­tion scowls through bro­ken teeth. Why it’s al­most as if some malev­o­lent en­tity is ma­nip­u­lat­ing the ac­tion.

A pre-credit se­quence does, in­deed, re­veal that rep­re­sen­ta­tives of some sin­is­ter, pos­si­bly quasi-gov­ern­men­tal body are closely ob­serv­ing the char­ac­ters. Richard Jenk­ins and Bradley Whit­ford raise hearty laughs as two se­nior sci­en­tists from the mys­te­ri­ous project. The boffins have con­structed an en­vi­ron­ment mod­elled on clas­sic hor­ror films. Op­er­at­ing from a vast lair be­neath the cabin, the pup­pet-mas­ters cyn­i­cally nudge the cast to­wards their doom. Will some­body blow the conch and un­leash the mer­men? No. In­stead, they read out the an­cient text that causes the zom­bie fam­ily to rise from their graves. Aphro­disiac gases are re­leased to stim­u­late the type of ac­tiv­ity that tra­di­tion­ally pre­cedes car­nage in such sit­u­a­tions.

The film-mak­ers have about as much af­fec­tion for their char­ac­ters as do the men in the white coats. Per­haps that’s the point. The evil ge­niuses in the un­der­ground con­trol room are, like Mr Whe­don and Mr God­dard, only in­ter­ested in the un­for­tu­nate drones’ sta­tuses as ar­che­typal sac­ri­fices.

The movie’s cal­lous­ness is, how­ever, one of the keys to its ap­peal. When set be­side the sav­age rit­u­als in The Cabin in the Woods, The Hunger Games comes across like The Gen­er­a­tion Game. There is an im­pres­sively sour tone to the hu­mour through­out.

Nonethe­less, for all its en­ergy and satir­i­cal verve, The Cabin in the Woods can’t quite con­tain the huge­ness of its apoc­a­lyp­tic am­bi­tion. An as­ton­ish­ingly pre­dictable celebrity cameo – lis­ten for a fa­mil­iar voice – falls flat as the di­rec­tors aban­don cau­tion and un­leash as­tro­nom­i­cal lev­els of catas­tro­phe. It looks as if the film has an am­bi­tion to do for hor­ror cinema what the Book of Rev­e­la­tions did for Chris­tian­ity. In­ter­nal logic breaks down. Hys­te­ria takes over. A zesty bub­ble of pulp evolves into some­thing al­to­gether more un­hinged.

The Cabin the Woods re­mains hugely en­ter­tain­ing stuff. But you might want a lit­tle lie down af­ter­wards.

Ar­che­typ­i­cal anx­i­ety: The cast of The Cabin in the Woods

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