THE CABIN IN
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JOSEPH CROSS, BRIANA EVIGAN,
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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Joss never goes for full fledged originality. His thing seems to be taking well-worn - even worn out - SF or Horror movie tropes and infusing them with a blast of freshener.
Whedon doesn't do it with hipster mockery (aren't we so clever?), but with talented insight into human nature. His characters are smart and they only get into problems due to being either unaware or flawed - but almost never because they're stupid.
We start with a couple of work drones, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins: THE CORE, THE BROKEN, LET ME IN) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford: PRESUMED INNOCENT, ROBOCOP 3), preparing for their job's big event. They have to work this weekend, but competition is in the air. The U.S. is competing against Japan (which has an unblemished record 3 years running) as well as other industrialized nations around the globe.
'We're number two so we try harder." says Hadley. Last year's loss to Japan involved Sitterson and Hadley passing the blame onto the Chemistry Department. Lin (Amy Acker: GROOM LAKE, DOLLHOUSE) is in charge of that department and she's not about to let Sitterson and Hadley pull that crap again.
Okay, so what are they up to? No idea yet, but it's a big enough deal to involve a top secret underground facility and possibly the U.S. government in the form of representative Truman (Brian White: BRICK): a clear outsider who stands with military bearing watching the proceedings. He would typically be Exposition Boy, but this is a Whedonesque movie so we'll have none of that. Truman has already been informed of what's going on and why he is there, so what questions he has only serve to deepen the mystery. What the hell is going on and why?
If the U.S. loses again, Truman is personally there to see who was responsible and report them to the top brass... whoever that is.
The object of this competition are the unwitting participants preparing to spend this weekend in a cabin in the woods. The cabin belongs to the unnamed cousin of Curt (Chris Hemsworth: STAR TREK, THOR). Curt is a towering 6 foot 3 inch, muscle cut gym rat and he isn't on an athletic scholarship? Uh... okay.
Curt's girlfriend is the sexually charged runway-model-looking Jules (Anna Hutchison: Yellow Cheetah Power Ranger - 2008). Despite her ditsy, breezy, party girl persona, she's actually a pre-med student. 'Kay.
Jules' friend is Dana (Kristen Connolly), the practically virginal bookworm. Jules is setting Dana up with the uber buff cut gym rat Holden (Jesse Williams), who is actually a studious bookworm. So everyone has a partner, right? But that's almost never how it works in one of these "cabin in the woods" movies.
That's how these movies work.
There is nearly always the tag-along brother or sister who is the loner or the stoner or (the worst of these) the goth who is By Them Self. Even if everyone in the cabin is a guy (THE THING) or gal (DESCENT) in an otherwise straight movie, there is going to be the stoner yammering on about conspiracies and humanity destroying themselves: You gotta have the Palmer of the group. That falls to Dana's stoner brother, Marty (Fran Kranz: DONNIE DARKO, THE VILLAGE, RISE: THE BLOODHUNTER, DOLLHOUSE [TV]).
So they drive off in their big camper to a cabin in the woods. Along the way they have to stop for gas, and when they do, they meet the foulmouthed redneck meanie, Mordecai (Tim De Zarn: TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT, LADY KILLER, SPIDER-MAN, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, RE-CUT). They have to because movies like this, from PSYCHO to the THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003 - and everything in between, before and beyond) to FRIDAY THE 13th, invariably have the whacked out religious nut blithering on about sin and condemnation.
After Mordecai pisses in their cornflakes, our five lab monkeys pass through a road tunnel in the mountain on their way to the cabin. When they do, we see some kind of force field energize. They don't know it yet, but they are trapped.
From this moment on everything they do is controlled by the people in the underground lab. While there is talk of the five young people's free will, the fact of the matter is, thanks to Lin in the Chemistry Department, Sitterson and Hadley (watching everything on massive monitors from secret cameras), control the decisions of the people in the cabin. When at one point, Curt suggests that they all stick together, an aerosol is released into the cabin giving everyone the "better idea" of splitting up.
Okay, I've told you enough. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is not your average Huckleberry Hound. In fact, with the exception of John Carpenter's THE THING, it supersedes all cabin in the woods movies up to and including THE EVIL DEAD.
Yeah, that's right! It's scary without cheap scares - no leaping cats. It's gory without being stupid - no long drawn out stares at dismembered limbs until you reach the point where you realize you are merely looking at foam rubber. And it's funny without making fun of itself: bad puns, topical pop-trendy memes, or trotting out an ancient punch line to a long dead joke.
Cinematographer, Peter Deming (THE EVIL DEAD II, SCREAM [all], SPECIES, MULHOLLAND DR., DRAG ME TO HELL) provides the proper lighting (and he should know!) to complement Production Designer, Martin Whist (PHONE BOOTH, LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, THE ISLAND, CLOVERFIELD, SUPER 8) wonderful, right on the money, scenery.
Co-writer and producer Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, FIREFLY, SERENITY, DOLLHOUSE), working with long time co-writer and first time director, Drew Goddard (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER [TV], ANGEL [TV], ALIAS [TV], CLOVERFIELD, LOST [TV]) has created a game changer. This is not a movie by bean counters or out-of-touch studio heads or past their prime directors. This is a movie by two writers who have long established themselves as people who know how a story needs to be written and told.
Whedon and Goddard are two people who are not only experienced and adept at bringing their unique perspective to their work (the two aren't always compatible), but are capable of capturing an audience that stays (nearly unique in itself!). Once you see THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, you'll never look at another Cabin In the Woods movie the same way again. Everything that comes after had better bring their A-Game.
4 Shriek Girls.
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