Friday, April 20, 2012

An Original American Horror Story

At the beginning pf the film I saw with Todd and my father this past weekend, we meet two industrial office drones (played by Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) going on about seemingly everyday things, from cabinets at home to the importance of their company's secret project. Seems like they're competing with others around the globe, though the goal itself is not mentioned in this opening scene. This would be glaringly normal for a modern-day drama, and it certainly feels out of place at the opening of The Cabin in the Woods, the horror comedy that serves as the directorial debut of Drew Goddard, who also co-wrote the script with every fanboy's hero, Joss Whedon. It's been an interesting career for Whedon; he started out modestly, writing for Roseanne and Parenthood before we witnessed his career go through highs and lows leading up to 2012 and his upcoming blockbuster The Avengers. The Cabin in the Woods was actually filmed way back in 2009 and probably would be remembered as one of the low points of Whedon's career when the studio distributing it, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, preventing the film from being immediately released. Following were a number of delays, including the purchase of the property by Lionsgate Films and a stated intent to convert the film to 3D. Eventually 3D talk was tabled, and to the joy of Whedon fans everywhere, The Cabin in the Woods finally made its release last weekend.

Hey, hey, the gang's all here!
On vacation from college, five students make the long trek to a cabin recently purchased by the cousin of school football star Curt (Thor's Chris Hemsworth). He, his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison), and their friends Dana (Kristen Connolly), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Holden (Jesse Williams) are preparing for a good time, away from the rigors and demands of the modern world. But in this cabin lie secrets, and the five unwittingly unleash a horror that threatens not only their lives, but the lives of everyone on the planet were it ever to get loose.

"Man, I am looking GOOD."
On the surface, one would be forgiven to thinking that this is a standard horror flick with nowhere to go but down. To those I have the following to say: Goddard and Whedon. It's strange to see Whedon NOT in charge of the film, as Goddard worked for Whedon as a writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel. Yet when the script is as good as the one that these two have produced, it's easy to see that Goddard wouldn't necessarily have the most difficult time handling his debut film, thanks to excellent pacing, hilarious dialogue and twists that you won't (or gleefully do) see coming. Those office workers played by Jenkins and Whitford that I mentioned in the beginning? They ARE important, but you won't know how until just the right time. I had been worried that too much of those characters would spoil the narrative of the story, but Goddard and Whedon did an excellent job of not giving anything away until you absolutely needed to know what was happening.

The Jehovahs Witnesses have gotten a little more aggressive lately...
And the dialogue... if you've EVER watched an episode of Buffy, Angel or Firefly, you probably know what to expect from a Joss Whedon production. Goddard and Whedon obviously put a lot of themselves into writing the script, and that means there's always some choice quotes designed to illicit the absolute most laughter it can from the audience, even while gruesomely violent actions are occurring. And it's not just the script, but the perfect execution by the collection of actors that bring it to life. I'm not just talking Jenkins and Whitford, whose individual accomplishments by 2009 would have eclipsed even the combined might of their younger co-stars, but those young unknown actors themselves, who diverge themselves from typical horror movie tropes by playing fully-realized characters instead of caricatures. They're not all great; Connolly and Hutchison make good scream queens and Williams seems to only have one facial expression, though all three do more than is required in fulfilling their roles. Cabin was filmed Hemsworth was even cast as Marvel's thunder god, but even this early in his career he was more than a good actor. But the standout of the cast is Krantz, who was probably the best-known of the five principle actors when filming began. Krantz's pot-smoking jokester serves as the voice of the audience, and delights in every moment he is on the screen.

We know blondes have more fun... now it's time to see if they live longer.
The spoof nature is what makes The Cabin in the Woods both a throwback to the old-school horror films like Friday the 13'th and simultaneously a whole new experience in itself. Both Todd and I loved how the end result was a unique look not only at the horror genre but the horror movie industry in general. I won't give away any major plot points, but this is one of those films I would LOVE to see a second time around, knowing that Whedon and Goddard likely planted dozens of Easter eggs that we missed the first time around. It was a close finish between this film and 21 Jump Street for the best I've seen in 2012. In the end, it's Cabin as the year's #1 film by the slimmest of margins. Funnier than The Three Stooges, more honest than The Lucky One and less predictable than Titanic 3D, this is a film you shouldn't miss even if you aren't a fan of horror. Whedon and Goddard have produced a smart, funny and clever film, one that should reign at #1 for a good, long time.

Yup. You're gonna die.

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