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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #179

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: 13 April 2012 (USA)
Sub-Genre: Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $30,000,000
Box-Office: $66,486,080
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Drew Goddard
Producer: Joss Whedon
Screenplay: Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon
Special Effects: Joel Whist
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Score: David Julyan
Editing: Lisa Lassek
Studios: Lionsgate, Mutant Enemy
Distributor: Lionsgate
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker, Tim De Zarn, Tom Lenk, Dan Payne, Jodelle Ferland, Dan Shea, Maya Massar, Matt Drake and Sigourney Weaver

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Suggested Audio Candy:

REO Speedwagon Roll With The Changes

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The log cabin in the woods premise has been done to death a thousand times already. Since Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead took us off the beaten track and dragged us kicking and screaming from one hellish scenario to the next, numerous film-makers have utilized this setting and with wildly varying results. So when a feature comes along which challenges the convention, whilst using the template to its own ends, we invariably sit up and take notice. Drew Goddard’s audacious backwoods slasher with a difference The Cabin in The Woods does exactly that.

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The initial set up has all the makings of your formulaic slasher; four impossibly handsome co-eds (action hero, slut, virgin, sensitive guy) and a stoner (clown shoes) take an RV to the deepest woods for a weekend getaway at an isolated woodland shack. On arrival they unwittingly unleash all manner of evil and yadda yadda yadda…if Goddard’s film chose to stay on its course then we’d no doubt be presented with a slickly produced slasher hark back with much to commend it. He and fellow screenwriter Joss Whedon are disinterested in simply putting in a shift however, and instead they introduce an entirely different dynamic, one which makes The Cabin in The Woods so much more than just the foamy latte it initially appears.

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The film plays out akin to a horrorized Truman Show and Goddard and Whedon introduce us to the white-collared voyeurs of the piece in their underground laboratory in the very first scene. Like with Eli Roth’s superb Hostel Part II, this affords the addressee two different vantage points and is a brave endeavor as you are kept posted as to developments before the hapless teens even catch a whiff of the pheromones. They place wagers on various outcomes, whisper their subliminal suggestions and attempt at tipping the odds away from their playthings every time they make some headway.

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The script, as expected when devised by these two great modern minds, is snappy and brimming with churlish banter. Anyone who has had the pleasure of watching Firefly will be only too aware of Whedon’s knack for writing great characters and, true to form, the five young leads are given some great gristle to wrestle over. In particular, we have Marty (Fran Kranz) who gets many of the film’s best lines including the doozy “The streets’ll be paved with actual streets” as he attempts to enlighten a brain-dead hillbilly zombie on the benefits of progress.

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In addition, impish puppet masters Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (the always dependable Richard Jenkins) supply us with constant comic relief as they frantically attempt to bag themselves a clean sweep and deny their prey the escape they desperately cling to. After a mass sweepstake to guess their fate takes place unbeknownst to them, the kids’ fascination gets the better of them and they open one of the liberally scattered Pandora’s boxes. This portentous scene is offset brilliantly by the sight of our ravenous coyotes attempting to make a quick ten bucks during their lunch break.

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Although their chosen destiny supplies them with backwoods zombies as their proposed antagonists there are a smorgasbord of different horror icons past and present waiting ominously in the wings to be unleashed and these are eventually let loose back into captivity as all merry hell breaks loose and the tables turn in style. The whole thing could buckle at this point under its own ambition but, predictably, Goddard and Whedon come through and the final third rockets along without a glitch.

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Speaking of glitches, it is the subtle moments such as the seagull hitting the edge of the simulation and pixelizating that really stand out. This technique is used later in the film to marvelous effect as one of the quarry attempts a Steve McQueen-style escape only to discover he has used up his last continue. The primary threat is supplied by the usual strategically challenged shufflers and they come armed with rusted instruments of medieval torture and cut ominous figures against the blackened night. When they strike, they aren’t concerned with whether they’ve destroyed something of beauty and instead they decimate first, ask questions never.

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So then, to the gore and you would be forgiven for not expecting quite the level of icky grue served up by Goddard. The blood flows in all directions and, while the CGI isn’t always up to scratch, the practical effects are, without exception, to exactly the standard you would expect from anything Whedon has the slightest involvement in. The final act descends into outright lunacy but without detriment to the overall experience and, given the fact that it escalates so, this is quite an achievement. At no point does interest dip, never do we tire of watching our two puppet masters engaging in their puppetry and the 95 minutes sails past like an amputee on a body-board.

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The last film I viewed prior to my introduction to The Cabin in The Woods was Berberian Sound Studio and, after that, I needed something irrelevant to counter-balance the inherent madness. My choice could not have been more astute, it’s faultless popcorn entertainment and a joy from the very start to its astonishing ending. It boggles Keeper’s mind how they manage to hold together so many random threads but somehow they do and the result is one of the most refreshing and exhilarating horror flicks of the last five years. Fuck it, they even throw Sigourney Weaver into the melting pot to seal the deal.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Skinseekers: Don’t be fooled, there is much here for even the most seasoned guzzlers. Everything is shown in gory detail and the cast are put to the sword in all manner of inventive ways. The Great Escape-gone-south is an obvious highlight and watching the quarry’s obliterated shell bounce down the impenetrable sandbox boundary is truly a joy to behold. Speaking of glee we even get a little T&A thrown in for good measure, is this just getting all the more mouth-watering or what?

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Read The Evil Dead (1981) Appraisal
Read Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn Appraisal
Read The Evil Dead (2013) Appraisal

 

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