Sunday, 30 December 2012

NerdTech's Film of the Year 2012 - #2

2: The Cabin in the Woods - Drew Goddard

The Cabin in the Woods was not even on my radar at the beginning of the year, but it quickly became my favourite horror film of all time. Except it's not a horror film; not really. The two friends I went with would disagree - both having come out saying it was disturbing and they never wanted to see it again - but I was in absolute stitches for most of its runtime. It's possible that says more about me than the film.

Cabin is about a group of attractive teens who, looking to let their hair down and get "off the grid" for a few days, head out to (you guessed it) a cabin in the woods. But, after they read an ancient diary in the basement, an evil awakens and they're soon fighting for their lives. It sounds clich├ęd, and that's because it is. That's the whole point. It's a carbon copy of Evil Dead but, really, it could be any horror film. Things play out exactly as you expect but then, don't they always?
What's important is not what happens, but why. Why do these same beats crop up in every horror film? Why do the group split up when they should clearly stick together? Why can they only survive if they don't have sex?
Where Scream and others have asked these questions, Cabin in the Woods finally answers them, for all films ever. And as the answers are slowly revealed you will be shocked and amazed. Even if you saw the "spoiler-filled" trailers, which "spoil" a "twist" from the first scene of the movie, you will not be prepared for where Cabin's answers eventually lead. When it does finally go there, it is glorious.

There are a few issues. The budget isn't enormous, but Goddard is smart enough to save his effects and spectacle until they're truly needed. About eighty percent of their money seems to have been saved for that astonishing final act.
The tone may present a problem for some - the two I saw it with included - as horror-comedy doesn't play to everyone. This isn't the kind of horror-comedy where the tone jumps from one to the other, either. It's the kind where the horror is the comedy. Cabin expects you to laugh at some pretty grotesque things and, while I certainly laughed, I realise that not everyone will.
Perhaps the film's biggest problem is a limitation of the genre it's exploring. The very nature of horror means that, even though the characters are likable, they aren't really around long enough to become attached to. They're purely stock characters, too - stereotypes - and that's actually addressed in the film, but addressing it doesn't make them any more relatable. The nature of this particular horror means the action also jumps between different characters and locations a lot, which only makes attachment even harder. By the end, though, some of the characters have broken free of their archetypes and the movie finds real, albeit utterly ridiculous, stakes.

It may seem, especially since I penalised The Hobbit for the exact same issue of not making me care about its characters, that this film has no right being higher than that one in my list. And you're probably right. I agonised over that ranking for days. But, as I said in my introduction, the gut reaction wins the day. On leaving the cinema after Cabin in the Woods I knew I had witnessed something special. It's a unique film and, while not the "game-changer" that some have proclaimed it, it's certainly a breath of fresh air. I knew instantly that I wanted to see it again - to catch things I may have missed and to relive the sense of sadistic glee that the finale gave me. In contrast, I instantly wanted to see The Hobbit again because I wasn't entirely sure what I thought of it.
This is not a list of the best films this year - it's a list of the ones I most enjoyed. And bloody hell did I enjoy this one.