Joss Whedon’s ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ review

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Recently CultBox went along to a screening of The Cabin in the Woods, the latest celluloid offering from Joss Whedon, with a (brief) introduction by the Buffy creator himself.

Shot in 2009, the film’s release was held back due to MGM’s financial difficulties: ‘I dimly remember it,’ Whedon comments wryly in reference to this time lag, ‘it’s a romantic comedy about a talking dog.’

Not quite… Nor is it the killer-on-the-loose flick that its title might lead you to believe it is. Films don’t always live up to the promise of their tag-lines, but it’s safe to say audiences can believe the relatively low-key poster quote for this film: ‘You think you know the story.’

The chances are high that they really won’t. Why? For a start, the film – penned by Whedon and Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard – is far better thought-out and more original than most horror films.

The ingredients of the film may include your standard horror staples – a cabin, woods, five typically libidinous but unusually personable teenagers – but right from the get go it’s apparent that something much stranger and darker is going on.

The Cabin in the Woods is a horror film that actually has a strong and unusual premise to support it; a premise that will have you pondering the film for days afterwards. As you’d hope from a heavy-weight writer like Whedon and a rising star like Goddard, the mystery is built up from the start so that the revelations never feel forced and last-minute.

Managing to be both terrifying and clever, it’s consequently a genre-buster that should appeal to people who don’t normally like horror – provided they can stand the gore content.

And it’s funny. The dialogue has all the verbal inventiveness and sly observation you’d expect from a Whedon script, with some particularly amusing lines from geeky pothead Marty (Dollhouse’s Fran Kranz). But it’s the situational comedy that will coax something more than a smirk from the most sophisticated of film buffs. There are some hilarious juxtapositions here between people from very different walks of life.

The genre tradition that people fighting to stay alive invariably do the most unlikely things – like splitting up when they should stick together – is also spoofed cleverly. Oh, and look out for a particularly cool cameo from one of horror/sci-fi’s greats, delivering one of the funniest lines in the film.

The lead characters (including Thor star Chris Hemsworth) are sympathetic enough to have you rooting for them, hoping that their unusually high wit quotients will save them from the script writers’ narrative axes. There are also enough clever little details in it to demand a second viewing; preferably not too long after you saw it the first time.

If the ending is a touch more unsettling than you might have anticipated for a mainstream film funded by a major studio, it never feels forced. All in all, The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliant watch that will stay with you long after most Hollywood horror films have faded from memory.

Released in UK cinemas on Friday 13th April 2012 by Lionsgate.