Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Cabin in the Woods (4½ Stars)

"Cabin in the Woods" didn't tempt me into the cinema when it was released last year, but the polarisation of the reviews I've read since then has fascinated me. Some people write that it's a revolution in the horror genre, while others write that it safely adheres to the old formulas. This obviously means that someone is getting it wrong, but it's also an indication that the film must have complexities that make it easy to misunderstand. After watching it I can see the problem for reviewers. A lot of people just don't get it, since the film does indeed throw a curved ball at the horror genre. But to call it a "revolution" is also wrong, because that would mean that it's the beginning of a new era in horror films, the first of a new type. That isn't the case; this is clearly a one-off, a film with a style that can't be repeated without resorting to plagiarism.

Five teenagers go away for the weekend to a remote cabin. They find a book in the cellar and read aloud the words written in Latin, which, unknown to them, are an invocation to raise the dead. After this the zombies kill them one by one. This is the same old formula that we know from "The Evil Dead" and the films that followed it. But this isn't all. We see that the events are being observed and controlled by people in white coats in a control room below the Earth.

While I sat watching it influences from three other films were obvious to me: "Scream", "The Truman Show" and "The man with the golden gun". Let's go through these in turn.

"Scream" sets itself up as a critique of modern horror films. The movie buffs within the film smugly state the rules of the genre. In "Cabin in the Woods" the five archetypes of teenage horror victims are presented: the Whore, the Athlete, the Scholar, the Fool and the Virgin. In the film it's stated that the first four have to die, while the fifth may or may not die. This is incorrect; in horror films the Virgin always survives.

"The Truman Show" is a world which is a reality show in which the unknowing star is steered by a programme director watching from afar. In the same way the five teenagers are the stars of a horror movie. They think they are making their own decisions, but the directors are subtly influencing them.

In "The man with the golden gun" James Bond had to battle his adversary in an artificial world. He could only find victory when he broke out of the artificial world and emerged into the real world, recognising the surrounding artefacts as props. In "Cabin in the Woods" Marty, the Fool, is the one who makes a breakthrough by finding the elevator to escape from the cabin into the high tech real world below it.

I was very happy to see Sigourney Weaver appear in the final scene as the bad ass controller bitch running everything from behind the scenes. The part was written for her. Nobody else, male or female, could have played it better.

Seeing Chris Hemsworth and Anna Hutchinson (the Athlete and the Whore) together by the lake made me gasp. They looked so much like Travis Alexander and Jodi Arias, it was remarkable. I'm sure this was accidental, but it must be obvious to anyone watching it.

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