Joss Whedon has made a good career out of being a smarty pants. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer, through Angel, on to the cancelled before its time Firefly, he’s created some pretty memorable genre telly.
If you like seeing horror or science fiction clichés being turned on their head, and characters who can crack a wise at twenty paces, he’s pretty much your go-to guy.
And so it is with The Cabin in the Woods. Fans of Joss Whedon will lap it up. Even people who’ve never heard of him or seen his shows, will (or should) lap it up, as it’s really quite different to most horror movies that have come before it.
It’s closest companion is probably Scream. But in that, the characters were fully aware of the horror in-jokes as they happened. In The Cabin in the Woods, the characters are, for the most part, in the dark.
It starts off in typical fashion. Five young college students are hooking up for a weekend of fun in an old cabin in the woods, which belongs to the cousin of one of the students.
It's not that scary, but...
They set off in an RV, driving head first into horror cliché number one: a derelict old gas station which has seen better days. Is it deserted? Seems that way, until horror cliché number two appears: the crotchety, weather-beaten old man, chewing tobacco and warning them of possible dangers ahead.
Naturally, they ignore him, and… I’ll say no more about the plot, as you can probably guess the rest. Or can you? That’s the beauty. You can’t. Possibly if you mainlined all of Whedon’s shows, you might have an inkling. If you’ve seen the trailer, like I have, you’ll have a pretty good idea, as unfortunately it’s a trailer that reveals a bit too much.
Despite that, I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Thankfully, the ending packs in a whole bunch of stuff that was missing from the trailer, so even though the premise has, up to a point, been spoiled, there’s still enough intrigue to pull you along through the movie towards it’s denouement.
In skewering horror stereotypes, Whedon’s characters adhere closely to those of earlier horror films. There’s the jock, the sex mad blonde, the smart one, the stoner etc. Whilst there’s a good, underlying reason for all this, unfortunately it doesn’t make them any more interesting than the stereotypes he’s spoofing. It’s probably the film’s one weakness.
As a result the film has a tendency to drag in the first half hour or so. But all is soon forgiven, and there comes a point where the films kicks into high gear and never really lets up, piling delight upon delight.
For a horror film, it’s not that scary. Or even that tense. But it’s clever enough, and different enough, and just plain entertaining enough, that ultimately it never seems to matter.