Starring: Chris HEMSWORTH, BRADLEY Whitford, Richard Jenkins and SIGOURNEY WEAVER.
Running Time: 95 mins.
Seen at: Didsbury
On: Saturday, 14th APRIL 2012.
Over the last fifteen years or so, with the cracking, clever but bloody subversion of Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996, it was made clear that the horror genre of the nineties, with it’s teenage students, lavish fraternity houses and usurping of convention, was never again going to consist of the realistic collection of Carpenter-lead, slow burning shockers it once was. Instead, we had glossy, creeping cinematographic photography, knowing dialogue, an instantly iconic figure in Ghostface, and enough ingeniously enveloped filmic references to keep both a new generational demographic, and even the most revered movie fans astutely happy.
Now, Buffy creator Joss Weadon produces this highly intelligent spin on the much tried-and-tested scenario of: ‘teenagers holiday in a secluded location and become viciously murdered by utilizing increasingly gruesome methods’.
Intriguingly however, it doesn’t start that way at all. Rather, it appears initially as quite a different film altogether. Two disgruntled, ageing television controllers talk of technical glitches and declining ratings, before being freeze-framed by the screech of a crescendo. It’s a highly unique, mis-directional technique, purposely designed to catch the audience on absolutely the wrong foot, thus hooking us in and piquing our interest every perilous, as well as often oddly funny trudge of its subversive way. Four intentionally artificial, once again glossily attractive teenagers, lead by Chris Hemsworth’s charming athlete (before he was Thor, turning in a brilliantly likeable performance as always), along with a fifth friend, load up a camper-van on their way to that most archetypal of horror-movie clichés, the deserted log-cabin retreat for the weekend, on the edge of a cliff. But not before running into another Eli Roth-inspired sterotype, the unsettlingly sinister redneck who, spitting blood – warns ominously in ambiguous, Southern-American tones: ‘I’ll get you there, getting back – that’s your concern’…
Of course, it isn’t long before mysterious events begin to occur: double-sided mirrors, peculiarly life-like taxidermy and a family of roaming, relentless zombies, keen to reclaim an ancient diary…
This though, is just a tiny part of the artifice designed by those same television controllers. The axel upon which the film’s entire premise is constructed. The ‘cabin’ of the title is, in actuality, an elaborate set for a reality-based television series watched by the whole world, with its four inhabitants as their unsuspecting and unaware contestants, as the order of: ‘lets begin’ is enthusiastically trilled, and a joystick locked into place…
The brilliant and rare conceit, is actually revealed relatively earlier on, with a vulture perishing while flying into the honeycombed electric dome that protects the entire complex. Before its release it was widely reported to avoid the trailer, which did really give away too much.
Bradley Whitford, along with the always-brilliant Richard Jenkins, are the executives who happily take bets on who’ll die next, as they gradually meet their maker one by one at the entertaining hands of a disguised mix of smoke-and mirrors machinery, numerously hidden homage-reference and environmentally manipulated aesthetic – which includes deliberately controlled gasses that increase our protagonist’s romances, only to lure them out, into shocking deaths…
The film really gains momentum halfway through, once those remaining cotton-on to the fact that they’ve fallen victim to superficiality, and attempt to escape off the cliff-face, only to again meet violent consequence.
The final segment, where the last two delve deep into the actual inner-workings of the studio’s trade secrets, is where the monsters, ghosts and stock characters kick in, thanks to an ebullient indulgence in an emphasis on impressive, computer-generated visuals, travelling through the many lift-shafts, each containing a new relic character of the genre.
The best of these however has to be a knowing nod to that genres first, most pioneering heroine, due to the actress who plays her, making a gleefully memorable cameo as the show’s unnamed director, who’s previously only hinted at through the fateful ring of an infamous red telephone. Without giving too much away, it’s a wonderful characterization and an excitedly unexpected performance, as well as another prime example that both Weadon, and director Drew Goddard both know their genre and every meticulous detail of it, inside out. Horror fans will delight in countless references.
Thankfully, it’s not actually scary, trading true horror for tongue-in-cheek, not so serious humour and occasional jumpy shock. As I’ve repeated, I judge comedy-horror to be the most difficult genre, and like the Screams before it, it succeeds in such a cleverly cinematic, triumphant way. It’s been dubbed as: ‘a groundbreaking game-changer’ on the poster – and it truly is. An impossibly clever concept, with endlessly exciting, stylishly shot surprises around every impeccably constructed turn. In years to come, it’ll be a niche-turned-mainstream classic.
With a sharply written screenplay adrenaline-pumping blockbuster thrills and funny dialogue, this is the most surprising hit of the year, with it’s appeal rooted in the very foundations of the staple conventions of the horror genre, its many subsequent incarnations, and the medium of cinema itself!
Rating: * * * *