The Cabin in the Woods Review
Whilst garnering much critical acclaim on the cusp of its cinematic release, The Cabin in the Woods - a film which has quickly become something of a heavyweight contender in the horror market of late - did manage to polarise opinion amongst some sectors of the viewing community. The central plot premise of the film and its admittedly slick delivery delighted many viewers and critics alike, and led some to go so far as to call the film a genre 'game changer', a term which exerts such weight of expectation onto the shoulders of a film that it is surely counter-productive.
The net output of such lofty (and presumably well-intentioned) claims appears to have been an alienation of some of the target viewing audience, because The Cabin in the Woods simply can't live up to 'game changer' status, and nor should it have to. The film does flirt very closely with becoming an intriguing analysis of our moral position when watching (and grimly enjoying) horror films, and it also provides a neat deconstruction of the mechanics of teenage horror yarns, but any raised expectations you may have that this will be especially frightening, revealing, or, indeed, game-changing, will be unceremoniously dashed.
With all of the hype surrounding the film at its theatrical release, it's quite challenging to have reached this stage and avoided even the merest snippet of plot threads, and if you're privy at all to any to the central premise of the film, it will undoubtedly present an inferior first viewing experience. With this in mind, I'm consciously avoiding any substantial analysis or description of the plot. What I will point out, though, is that Goddard and producer Josh Whedon, who wrote the script for the film during late night hotel sessions, have crafted an affectionate homage to horror which tips numerous nods towards some of the finest horror films of the past few decades. In order to elevate these respectful references beyond a collection of lazy, derived set-pieces, the writers have constructed a plot framework which fully legitimises these generic allusions, a smart move which enables them to balance the film somewhere between a horror genre homage and a slice of modern horror in its own right.
Whilst this tricky balance alienates many hardened horror stalwarts, it's difficult for most viewers to refute the quality of the presentation, and the opening sequence reveals the standard of filmmaking showcased here. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford demonstrate their pedigree with some comfort during this scene, and the way in which Goddard captures their effortless dialogue during this early segment bodes extremely well. This scene is also notable not only for the manner in which Goddard presents the two male characters - their sharp humour and dry banter is really something - but also for the quality of the direction from the off. The scale of the facility within which the two male characters work is captured with great confidence, and this opening sequence places a firm marker to suggest the level at which the rest of the film will operate on.
Following this opening sequence, and heading towards the first half hour mark, The Cabin in the Woods wanders dangerously close to presenting an uncomfortable comment on our tacit enjoyment of watching peril and pain as a form of entertainment; yet this and other themes aren't developed beyond a perfunctory introduction, and efforts are instead focussed upon the increasing visual extravaganza which proves exhilarating for much of the running time, but is ultimately undone by voracious over-ambition which pushes the film beyond a well balanced blend of lighthearted horror and deep into the realms of the over-exuberant and the over-engineered. Goddard and Whedon have been handed the keys to horror's sweet shop, and they're not about to hand them back until gorged to a state of nausea.
So, Goddard and Whedon's The Cabin in the Woods; frightening? Not especially. A game-changer? Most certainly not. But it is all rather good fun, and definitely funny, and if you can ignore all of the silly hype surrounding this film, and forgive the film-makers their unrestrained hand as the film develops, you'll find plenty to enjoy in this slick and well presented slice of collective horror mythology.
This Blu-ray release of The Cabin in the Woods appears courtesy of Lionsgate encoded for audiences in Region B, and as you might expect for a company of Lionsgate's experience, the presentation is of a satisfyingly high standard. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the resolution here is 1080p, so you should expect a sharp and well defined image. There's a little antialiasing during the reproduction of the reds in the rich and absorbing title sequence, but overall the image is clean, clear, and smooth. Expect good quality definition and a high level of accuracy, and the depth of the colours is similarly well done.
Note that there are good quality, clear subtitles in English, and also English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
Audio is, if anything, even better than the visual presentation, with the soundtrack being delivered in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The sound is clean and clear throughout the film, and you can expect punchy bass, crystal clear treble, and a sound that is never harsh despite the nature of the film and its noisy activity. Surround sound is well catered for, with the subtleties of the soundtrack proving well positioned and delivering an absorbing experience. Levels are contained well enough to prevent the shocks becoming over-zealous, yet there's sufficient scale here to ensure you'll be jumping at all the right moments.
Lionsgate have supplied a barrage of quality extras with this Blu-ray release, and fans of the film should be suitably pleased.
I was initially unsure of what It's not what you Think: The Cabin in the Woods Bonus View Mode actually was, but after the film has opened, we are treated to insets of various cast and crew making comments about the film. Drew Goddard pins much of the commentary together, but there is plenty of input from others involved in the film, such as Joss Whedon, various cast members, and the Production Designer (Martin Whist). My only grumble is that it can be difficult to see some of the detail in the inset, but it's a small drawback from what is a rather tidy feature. Look out for the 'bear' incident approximately 20 minutes into the film.
A more traditional approach to audio commentary is presented via the Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Drew Goddard and Writer/Producer Joss Whedon, and the pair behind the film deliver a suitably warm and enthusiastic accompaniment and lend you an insight into much of the background surrounding the film. It's interesting to hear Whedon talking about his work on Avengers, though you might start to hear some cross-over if you've watched the film with the 'bonus view mode' enabled, or if you've already checked out the 'making of' documentary.
Speaking of which, there's the obligatory 'making of' production in the shape of We are not who we are: Making The Cabin in the Woods, which is output of a higher than average quality. The piece features interviews with Goddard and Whedon, behind the scenes footage, and some amusing backstage shenanigans with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. At almost half an hour, this is a nutritious enough accompaniment to the film.
The Secret Secret Stash provides two sequences of low key footage, the first from dopehead Marty (Fran Kranz), and the second from Joss Whedon. Neither segment proves especially inspiring, but the Whedon section is slightly more informative and likely to hold your attention.
Bearing in mind that The Cabin in the Woods has some fairly congested horror sequences using a rainbow of horror influences and icons, An Army of Nightmares: Make-up and Animatronic Effects makes for compelling viewing, and lends an insight into just how much effort has gone into providing the often impressive visual effects included in the production. Primal Terror: Visual Effects is similar fare, though because of the team's mantra of 'if it can be done without CGI, then do it without CGI', this segment isn't quite so involved.
An extra entitled Wonder-con Q&A depicts Mr Goddard and Whedon at a movie convention being interviewed by a chap from the LA Times. Whilst this section is engaging enough, it's filmed from an unusual angle (filmed downwards from above the stage), and as such it makes for quite a strange and slightly detached viewing experience.
A Bookmarks feature seems to allow you to add your own bookmarks, but I'm unsure of how this works. Technology eh?
It's over-hyped and over-ambitious, but this high quality presentation of Goddard and Whedon's indulgent homage to the horror genre proves to be a forest full of well-crafted fun, and with a weighty lump of decent extras, fans of the film will be absolutely delighted.