Two nights ago I walked out of a hall with a lopsided grin on my face, in a cathartic state, oblivious to the dozens of cars screeching to a halt and honking as I crossed the road. I had lost all connect of sight and sound, and the only emotion I felt was of being completely overwhelmed. I mention these things not to meander pointlessly, but to let you know that I’d just seen a certified cult classic – Drew Goddard’s bizarre and terrific The Cabin in the Woods.
Written by cult grandmaster Joss Whedon and Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods isn't just a traditional horror movie, but a thoroughly entertaining, visceral experience. And by visceral I mean truly twisted, unique and endlessly fascinating to sit through. What is most engaging about this film is the way in which Goddard deliberately mixes the horror movie clichés with the darkly absurd and the over the top unexpected punch. This is a movie that is terrifying, hilarious and smart at the same time, a modern masterpiece.
Cabin in the Woods takes place in a creepily dank and isolated titular place, one that is freshly populated by five college kids (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams) for a weekend getaway. Like in Evil Dead, they stumble upon some ancient book and are attacked by all kinds of horrific things. But don’t let that premise fool you – all I can give you is the tagline ‘you think you know the story, think again’. Suffice to say that a lot of mayhem ensues, and to say that you are prepared for what follows in the final half hour would be a big neon-flashing understatement. And the more you chip away the mystery through the film, the deeper your jaw sinks towards the floor.
This isn’t just a movie about jump scares and gore (although there is plenty of it), but it's as smartly entertaining a black comedy as you're likely to come across. As the film progresses Goddard (who has also written Cloverfield) lovingly piles on the horror movie tropes like a crazed fanboy and grabs your mind and blows it. He pays homage to the horror genre, sneers at the genre’s various in-jokes and turns the whole thing into a parody at will. Fans of horror and pop culture junkies will in particular be giddy in delight at the tongue in cheek references here. This isn’t the Shaun of the Dead, but the Godfather of Cabin terror, and Sam Raimi would be pleased.
The creepy setting maintains the nightmarish mode, which is buoyed by all the lead performances. Newbie Kristen Connolly and Chris Hemsworth deliver some original work that isn’t the least bit hackneyed but it's Fran Kranz as the bong-wielding goof that commands the most attention. Most stoners in Hollywood films have the stock set of established gimmicks, but this guy is actually a three-dimensional and entirely sympathetic. The special effects are few, but they contain enough meaty punches and sheer lunacy to spiral you into guilty pleasure. And the film’s final scene is brilliant enough to warrant a big fat Keanu Reeves-eque ‘whoa’.