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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug reviews CABIN IN THE WOODS and dissects what it might mean for the horror genre!!!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug with a special AICN HORROR Review. It’s not often that I separate my reviews from my regular weekly Friday horror column, but it’s not often that a film like CABIN IN THE WOODS comes along. I think special recognition and dissection is important for this film, mainly because not only is it a movie worth seeking out, but one that says a lot about the horror films of today. While I will stay away from specifics to protect those fearful of spoilers, I will try to talk about some of the broader themes at play in CABIN IN THE WOODS. Read on…

Advance Review: In theaters tomorrow!


Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, & Amy Acker
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

CABIN IN THE WOODS is everything folks are gushing about. It is an unabashed horror movie, and proud to be one with multiple scares consisting of fantastically timed jump scares and more complex ones that build in magnitude. In many ways, it is the apex of horror films, taking everything of what has been said and done before and smartly incorporating it all into one expansive story. Horror, in itself, is as much about convention as it is about scaring you, and CABIN IN THE WOODS embraces this fact cleverly and capably. Certain tick marks have to be made on a well worn checklist for most modern audiences to enjoy horror films, and Whedon and Goddard do a great job of making those marks one by one throughout the story. There’s the cabin in the woods, there’s the group of rowdy teens, there are drugs, there is sex, there is an entire Mystery Machine full of Scooby Doo characters Fred the jock, Daphne the tramp, Shaggy the stoner, Scooby the noble nerd, and of course, Velma the virgin. The thing that separates this film from the herd is the fact that all of what we have come to expect are present and accounted for yet this doesn’t produce eye rolling at the adherence to convention; instead it views these archetypes with fresh eyes. All of these roles are smartly crafted and much praise should go to Whedon and Goddard for shedding a refreshing light on these old standbys.

Without revealing too much, I’m sure most of you know that there are behind the scenes machinations at work that our residents of the cabin are unaware of. This is the aspect which both sets this film apart yet also makes me a bit leery of what this film means for the horror genre. In many ways, this is the end all be all horror film. It borrows quite a bit from scores of other films, and much like the archetypes of our young cast, it checks off all of these types of horror films in the same fashion. As self-referential as SCREAM was, CABIN IN THE WOODS does the same in a more complex fashion. Instead of verbally vomiting these rules off one by one as it occurred in Craven/Williamson’s flick which half the time mocked the genre it firmly rested in, CABIN IN THE WOODS creatively implements them. In doing so, this makes the film so much more enjoyable to sit through. It’s the filmic equivalent of explaining a joke as opposed to experiencing it, experiencing it being the much more satisfying option of the two.

For example, when a character suggests that they split up in order to investigate the strange goings on, instead of one of the characters stating “Every character in every horror movie makes the bad decision to split up and it always gets them killed!”, the character simply says “Really!?!?!” Same joke, but funnier because it avoids the tedious explanation and obnoxious wink at the camera. By having these characters go through motions we are very much used to seeing in horror films, yet restrictedly self aware in doing so, Goddard and Whedon makes it ok to see someone go off alone to investigate that bump in the night rather than running in the opposite direction, which would be the more realistic way of handling said situation. Without giving too much away, the filmmakers make every bone-headed move these cabiners make sensible in the context of the story.

But with CABIN IN THE WOODS hitting all of the right notes, does this mean that horror has hit such a level of self-awareness that there is nowhere to go? Surely, the way this film ends there really isn’t a lot of room for a sequel, but much like the tedious and repetitive aftershocks that the horror genre experienced from the annoyingly overly self-aware SCREAM (where every character must acknowledge they are in a horror film), I fear that the same will be a result of this film. And in a genre that has already been sucked dry by sequels, remakes, and films talking down to its audiences, it makes me fearful as to what Whedon and Godard have wrought with this film, which could be seen as the end result of the sum of all horror films.

Ramifications on the horror genre aside, Goddard has constructed a completely satisfying movie experience. The film does fall into its own conventions at times with its extremely good looking cast of campers (even the nerd has six-pack abs), but I’m willing to look past that due to the deft handling of scare scenes, fresh takes on old conventions, and expert construction of just about everything from practical effects to CGI to elaborate set pieces. The climax of this film does toss everything against the wall, but most of it sticks. Though the guest appearance at the end is a bit distracting, it is, like the rest of the film, an ode to horror convention and I didn’t take very much issue with it. As I mentioned above, there is a definite ending to this film, one that might be hard pressed to squeeze a sequel from, but the ending, like much of the rest of the film, is solid and satisfying.

I couldn’t end this review without talking about the performances by the actors. Unlike most horror films utilizing the cabin in the woods motif, most of the cast exhibit a great amount of acting skill. Standout performances include Chris Hemsworth, who adds a bit of depth to the bawdy jock stereotype, and Kristen Connolly, who takes the virginal character that is always present in these types of films and turns it on its ear. Fran Kranz plays himself as the comedic stoner wisenheimer character he perfected in DOLLHOUSE, and his comedy works almost all of the time due to Goddard and Whedon’s clever scripting. For me, though, the highlight of this film was Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford, who alternate at being both jaw-droppingly awesome and pants-shittingly funny every second they are on the screen.

CABIN IN THE WOODS is the type of film that horror freaks like me fiend for, yet also makes them cringe a little as it alerts general filmgoers as to how cool the horror genre is, yet it does so on a blockbuster tapestry the horror genre is rarely cast upon. It’s gory but not grossout. It’s scary without being overly disturbing. It’s safe, yet the filmmakers are skilled enough to make the whole thing such an enjoyable loop-di-loop that you can’t help but leave the theater with a smile so big you can taste your ears. Though horror fans love to be off in the corner thinking dark thoughts and flicking off film snobs, it’s bound to give those same fans a warm feeling that CABIN IN THE WOODS was treated with such skill and respect for the genre. In many ways, CABIN IN THE WOODS is validation that all of those low budget horror films which set these conventions in the first place are as cool as we all knew they were and may serve as an awesome gateway drug for those who see horror in a down-snouted manner. It may even prompt those folks to view those amazing films that influenced CABIN IN THE WOODS in a new light.

I can’t help but recommend CABIN IN THE WOODS for horror fans and those beyond that specific predilection and hope that this treatment excites other creative minds to the genre. Yet at the same time, the cynic in me recognizes that CABIN IN THE WOODS could possibly be, like SCREAM before it, a milestone in the genre and fears what that means for what happens next in horror.

See you tomorrow for our regular AICN HORROR column celebrating Friday the 13th!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.


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