Posted on Friday, February 27th, 2009 by Brendon Connelly
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have done their very best to keep the details of their upcoming “horror movie to end all horror movies” Cabin in the Woods as absolutely under wraps as they can, but there was always going to be some point when the cover would be pulled back and we’d get a good look at what they’re building. For me at least, that point came this evening.
Neither of the two things that most struck me is actually the essential premise of what Whedon and Goddard are brewing up here at all. Rather, I was taken aback how quickly the cat has fled the bag and also, very sadly, how uninspiring the basic idea is. After the break I’ll be truffling in some sort of basic spoiler stuff – so snout on cautiously.
Editor’s Note: While the following contains a review of plot details, no details from after the first 30 or so pages is revealed. Of course, scripts and early plot synopsizes are not an indication of the final product, and as many of you know — a lot of the time the final product turns out much differently than the courier typed highly-formatted pages of one of the possibly many drafts of a screenplay. The following is a review of the concept, and nothing more.
When Kevin Williamson’s Scream first hit, the ripples pulsed quickly through the slasher genre and rapidly redefined the audience’s expectations of boogeymen in creepy masks and their cinematic slaughter sprees. It was a pioneering work and one of the genuinely visionary films of the 90s. The idea with Cabin in the Woods is, I think, to do something similar. The means, however, are not as simple and definitely not as fresh.
The film will begin with the “white collar” characters we’ve already had casting for – Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as Sitterson and Hadley (though they aren’t necessarily taking the roles in that order – there are still some secrets to unlock). It then cross cuts between these two and a group of five college-agers headed up to a cabin for the typical cabin based shenanigans. A cabin, somewhat unsurprisingly, in a wooded area.
The teenagers are given rather clear and clever introductions, but I won’t go into them here lest I spoil a high point of the movie. Once the “victims” arrive at the Cabin, the full extent of the white-collared ones’ plan comes into focus. They are luring the kids here to have them “transgress” so that they might then be “punished”. They are god-like manipulators, shady business dealers, adults to be suspicious of, aloof yet blood hungry audience and cynical film makers all rolled into one.
The cabin is rigged with carefully selected props, gimmicks and cameras that allow the overseers to both spy on and interfere with the college kids. As things are warming up we are given the idea that there are many different ways in which it could go very wrong for the victims, and that employees of the mysterious organization behind this scheme have held a sweepstakes on just how it’s going to pan out. The various possibilities are shown to include Vampires, Werewolves, Aliens, Clowns, Scarecrows, Zombies and, ho ho, an Angry Molesting Tree.
By the end, Cabin in the Woods goes through a whole gamut of horror cliches in a way not entirely dissimilar to the Scary Movie series, riffing on images and ideas you’ll recognize from any number of recently popular or classic spook flicks. As a result, I think that fifteen or twenty years from now when we have a whole set of cliches to deride, Cabin will probably seem somewhat dated.
Things definitely get busier and more exciting towards the end of the story, but the basic concept is just too simple and easy to digest for this to feel like a real meal. But I do think it’s going to be a nice snack. If this were a feature length Angel or Buffy, and just part of the overall series, it would be dynamite. As a standalone statement it’s just too light and too easy to outrun: the two things that neither horror films or satirical arguments should ever be.
Oh… and definitely try not to see Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon first. It has so many similar ideas that it’s basically a walking spoiler for Cabin‘s late, talky explanation scenes.
Is there anywhere new for the deconstructed horror film to go? I think so… but I also thought Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard would take us there. Are our hopes now pinned, with some improbability, on the Scream rehash?
Now… I’m off to enjoy Dollhouse. Good, isn’t it?