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August 22, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Extended Review- Cabin in the Woods

Ed’s note: This review is an extended version of that which appeared in the print version of Issue 18.

In 1994, John Carpenter released In the Mouth of Madness. Starring Sam Neill, the film told the story of a claims investigator sent by a publishing company to retrieve a popular Stephen King-like author who has gone AWOL. His first stop – the sleepy town of Hobbe’s End, a location that seems too surreal to be true. While not a commercial success, Madness is one of the most successful – and delightful – exercises in postmodern horror storytelling ever made, an anarchic reflection on the relationship between the author, their art, and their audience that consumes it.

It’s interesting that, eighteen years later, Cabin in the Woods is getting called a ‘game-changer’ for doing something very similar.

Even if Madness didn’t exist, the narrative games and thematic concerns of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s canny horror-comedy will feel familiar to anyone who has seen Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, Wes Craven’s Scream or Park Chan-wook’s Cut. Nevertheless, Cabin is an entertaining interrogation of the state of 21st century horror storytelling and authorship thereof. Cutting between a quintet of attractive young twenty-somethings , who are taking a weekend trip to the titular cabin, and a trio of jaded techs working at the most insidious job possible, Whedon and Goddard contest how much originality and influence over narrative filmmakers are truly afforded, offering a persuasive allegorical argument for the studio system and the demands of the typical horror audience being the ones who control the discourse in this day and age, and how terrible that is (even if it doesn’t make that argument as effectively as Rubber did two years ago, or the opening sequence of Scream 2 did a decade before that).

Luckily, Cabin‘s greatest successes aren’t its subtextual games. Cabin is, first and foremost, a hilarious, exceptionally tight horror-comedy, a supremely well-constructed beast in the vein of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz.  A plothole or two aside, the film’s narrative and comic craft is impressive. Whedon’s characteristically clever dialogue is delivered with panache and natural wit by the most talented cast to ever work on a Whedon script (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford deserve special mention, stealing the film as a pair of snarky puppetmasters), every first act set-up has a third act pay-off, and Goddard’s direction injects the film with a giddy, authentic energy . It’s the kind of film that illustrates just how fun postmodernist cinema can be when done right.

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