“…nobody wants to see vampire killers… or vampires… Apparently all they want to see are demented madmen running around in ski-masks, hacking up young virgins.”

Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall), Fright Night (1985)

If someone unexposed to horror films from the past 35 years or so were to watch a marathon of several of these films back to back (and let’s say none of them were sequels), how many would it take before he or she began to predict what’s going to happen next? For an American film audience culture that has by now endured the irony-heavy Scream franchise and the gloomily unironic spate of “torture porn” from auteurs like Eli Roth and others, can there truly be any genuine shocks in horror anymore? Cabin in the Woods film attempts to answer that question with a wink and a nod.

The new film features five college-aged protagonists, each fitting a certain stock cliché to be found in assorted horror films: the jock/de facto leader (Chris Hemsworth ), the dumb blonde (Anna Hutchison), the nerd/token minority (Jesse Williams), the druggie (Fran Kranz) and the nice girl (Kristin Connolly.) The (slight) twist is, not all of the characters inhabit these roles from the get-go, but are manipulated into them.

A creepy gas station attendant (is there any other kind?) gives an oblique warning (to the students and the audience) as the quintet heads up to the titular cabin for a weekend of unsupervised fun. Before the film is over, threads from Deliverance, Friday the 13th, Ju-On/The Grudge and more are touched on in various depths. The Saw films, which are already on their seventh (or is that VIIth?) installment, are also clipped for some thematic DNA.

The film was co-written by Joss Whedon (Marvel’s The Avengers) and directed by Drew Goddard—the latter of whom wrote and/or directed several episodes of Whedon’s Buffy and Angel TV series as well as the conspiracy-heavy TV drama Lost. Both collaborators bring a satirical sensibility to this horror entry. Cabin reveals its core conceit in its opening scenes (though less-knowing viewers may be hard-pressed to connect the dots early on), and so perhaps the film has less bite (pun intended) than it would have were it to wait until later. Still, the twists, when they happen, are more intriguing than draining, especially by the climax, which manages to be nihilistic and liberating at the same time.

Cabin functions as a witty indictment and apology of sorts for the clichés of contemporary horror cinema and the slasher subgenre in particular. Depending on how cynical the viewer is, the only way to really ruin this experience—would be to have a sequel.


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