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rochefort [Film Festival 03.13.12] horror thriller

Year: 2011
Directors: Drew Goddard
Writers: Joss Whedon
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 7 out of 10

Writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard pile on pretty much every cliche and iconic image possible from a vast array of slasher and survival horror movies from the 70's to modern day, but their ultimate goal is very, very different than your average horror flick.

In the long-delayed "Cabin in the Woods", five teens (including "Thor"'s Chris Hemsworth and Fran Kranz from "Dollhouse") head to the hill country for a weekend getaway in a run-down cabin. They find an old manuscript, a diary that tells of a family of sadistic cannibals whose bodies are buried nearby, and before you can say "Evil Dead" their recitations awaken the cannibal zombies who proceed to surround and slaughter the teens one by one. Writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard pile on pretty much every cliche and iconic image possible from a vast array of slasher and survival horror movies from the 70's to modern day, but their ultimate goal is very, very different than the above synopsis suggests, as the cabin-bound string of homages is only half the story.

And the truth is, the other half of the story is where all the real fun happens to be. If you've seen the trailer, then you've probably already pieced together some of the film's more inventive elements. Thankfully, there are still more surprises left, and it's difficult to know what and what not to spoil, since I personally enjoyed the movie a great deal more once the narrative moved past the parts I recognized from the marketing campaign. If you've gone this long without seeing a trailer or reading a spoilerish review, keep it up; the movie should be out in less than a few weeks. For the rest of you, especially those of you who have come to terms with the fact that the internet abhors a secret, read on.

By now we're used to the way slasher movies set up their protagonists/victims, and true horror fans (especially us older ones) can often predict just who will and won't survive based on the thin characterization we're handed when first we meet them. Sure, the recent remakes and reboots have tried to throw the occasional wrench in the works by tweaking a character's life expectancy here and there, but more often than not this comes off as desperate and convoluted, as if the only way to stay ahead of the audience is to throw in ridiculous twists. In "Cabin", the opening moments turn out to be a game of "Guess the Red Herring", since the borderline-snuff approach of most slasher films isn't even remotely the point here. But just to keep things interesting, our group of five is refreshingly douchebag-free; even the massive jock (Hemsworth) is a sociology major with a pretty charming sense of humor. The cast ably seal the deal, making their atypical portrayals come off as not at all perfunctory, and by the time the group is in their pajamas and the drinking starts we're all really curious about just how much the script will stick to the tropes.


And that's where the second story comes in, so now we're in massive spoiler territory. I repeat, SPOILERS from here on. The group is being watched over by a nameless high-tech organization that starts to manipulate their behavior once they arrive at the cabin, and is priming them all for a ritual upon which quite a great deal depends. Using surveillance, pumped-in "behavioral gas", and a massive labyrinth of trap doors and rigging the Watchers turn each of the group into a cliched version of his- or herself. They do this so that they'll make stupid decisions and be easy fodder for the nasties that converge on the cabin and pick them off in locations that call to mind everything from "Evil Dead" to "Friday the 13th". This is the part where the script stumbles just a tad; we have to occasionally be told that characters we're relatively unfamiliar with are behaving in an uncharacteristic manner, and some of the 2nd act developments get a little too ridiculous too quickly, especially when it comes to the villains' choices of weapons.

But director Goddard and his co-writer Whedon are fully aware of what they're doing and where to take it. Since it's the characters, and not we the audience, who are being manipulated into making foolish decisions, we find that we're not rooting for the villains, making the endgame all the more effective and satisfying. And as far as the final big reveal is concerned, let some other reviewer spoil that for you. I had way too much fun with the surprises to blow them for you here; let's just say the makers of "Cabin" wear their horror fanboy status proudly on their sleeves. This is seriously great fun, and will hopefully connect with all of us geeks who keep bemoaning the lack of original ideas at the movies. Here's one. Now get out there and do your part.

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