Where's the Scream?

The Cabin in the Woods
(USA, 95 min.)
Dir. Drew Goddard, Writ. Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchinson, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford.
When Scream hit the big screen back in 1996, it introduced something new to horror fans. Among the most self-conscious genre films of all time, Scream reinvented the slasher film by acknowledging explicitly the tropes and clichés that had become the norm. Although the film itself followed the cookie-cutter pattern of the genre, it still felt fresh because of how brazenly it mocked its own logic. The Cabin in the Woods offers a similar exercise in flagging convention whenever it appears, and by incorporating the satire into its objective. It seems that the self-reflexive horror film is finally fleshing out a sub-genre for itself; however, since Cabin in the Woods brings something that is by now quite familiar, the category is already showing signs of strain.

Cabin in the Woods leaves one muddled in terms of reaching a verdict. The film painstakingly crosses off all the items on its grocery list of the slasher's canned goods, so it clearly achieves its purpose as a self-reflexive horror film. On the other hand, it fails to realize what made so many horror films classics before they became clichés: Cabin in the Woods just isn’t scary. It wouldn’t terrify a toddler. Likewise, it’s largely missing the element that made Scream so enjoyable, even when the franchise hit its fourth installment: humour. What’s the point of watching Cabin in the Woods, then, if it’s not seen through fingers atop one’s eyes? Or what’s the point in satire if it’s not funny, but only mildly amusing? Aside from one virtuoso twist, Cabin in the Woods has the honour of being the cinema’s first generic anti-genre film.
Like Scream or even the horror-comedy Cabin Fever, Cabin in the Woods offers the usual cast of characters of the slasher film. There’s Dana, the virginal(ish) good girl whose book smarts, spunky independence, and girl-next-door charm give her all the makings of The Final Girl. (She probably had Sidney Prescott as a babysitter.) There’s also the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the whore (Anna Hutchinson), the scholar (Jesse Williams), and the fool (Fran Kranz).

Naturally, these young beautiful people are picked off when they transgress, like have sex at a party or drink too much. They even split up, and have a conversation about doing so, in case you aren’t already aware that said decision is a humorously fatal error in most slashers. What’s more, Cabin in the Woods features an additional cast of characters, led by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who comment on the action, too, and thus hammer home the point even harder. The commentary is one of Cabin’s better charms since it integrates the audience’s desire for familiar blood lust into its satire, but the repetitive asides also make the self-referentiality a bit too coy for its own good. We don’t really need Bradley Whitford to deliver a monologue on the hardship and heroism of the final girl after she's endured it all on screen, do we?
Cabin in the Woods basically transports the genre from the booze-fuelled frat party and movie geek terrain of Scream to the second most familiar battle ground for fresh meat: the lakeside cabin. Although the first hour offers little new material, aside from a fun debate on the difference between zombies and redneck backwoods zombies, Cabin really picks up in its final act. Without giving too much away, the film becomes terrific when the teens turn the chopping block back on those who make the rules. The amusing parody evolves into a ridiculous bloodbath. All true horror fans owe it to themselves to see The Cabin in the Woods, if only for the epically gruesome gorefest of the Final Girl’s last stand. The last twenty minutes make The Raid look as tame as The King’s Speech.

Rating: (out of ★★★★★)

The Cabin in the Woods is currently playing in wide release.