Cabin in the Woods has the goods

Steve Dinneen
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Cert 15

The Cabin in the Woods is one of those films you really need to see before you read about it. Ideally, you should stumble across it by mistake. I suggest running blindfolded into a cinema with your fingers crammed into your ears and hoping that by sheer bloody-minded willpower you end up sitting in the right screen as the film starts. This, of course, puts me in a rather difficult position. So… Well, this is awkward.

I will endeavour not to give too much away. For the first half hour, you will probably wonder what all the fuss was about. It looks, on first sight, like a photo-fit teen slasher movie (an American teen slasher movie: this is important but I can’t tell you why).

The five protagonists roll straight off the horror production-line. You have the slutty blonde, the jock, the stoner, the hot geeky girl and the sensitive bloke. They go on a spurious road trip to a mysterious cabin, which, I don’t think it would be giving too much away to reveal, is located somewhere in the woods. They strip down to their smalls and swim in the lake. They get drunk and play truth or dare. For a while it’s only by virtue of knowing Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Joss Whedon is attached that you give it the benefit of the doubt. You soon realise, though, that it’s all played with a knowingly arched eyebrow: this is a horror movie about horror movies, and about the very concept of horror.

It pokes fun at familiar tropes in the way Scream did 16 years ago, with its spelling out of the rules: “never drink or do drugs”, “never have sex”, “never, ever, ever say ‘I’ll be right back’”. But where Scream was content to point out the rules, Cabin pulls back the curtain entirely, exposing the wonderfully grizzly machinery behind it.

In years to come students will play bingo watching this. Cellar filled with creepy dolls? Check. Hands clawing their way from graves? Check. Dismembered limbs crawling back for one last scare? House! It is crammed so full of references to classic fright movies – some subtle, some rather less so – that anyone even vaguely versed in the genre will lap it up.

It’s also very funny. Even the (very regular) stoner jokes bear the hallmarks of Whedon’s off-kilter dialogue. Some of the gags might be dumb but you can laugh at them without feeling guilty because, you know, it’s clever. I think.

What starts out as a tightly wound monster-in-the-window horror eventually spirals into an all-out celebration of human entrails. Whedon creates an early-era Peter Jackson gore-fest on a late-era Peter Jackson budget. Quite how he does it… Well, you’ll just have to watch it to find out. I’ll lend you my blindfold.

Cert 12A

WHAT happens when a really attractive woman fancies a not-so-attractive man? Does the world explode? No, according to this typically kooky French rom-com, where the widowed, heartbroken Nathalie (Audrey Tautou on classic “cute” form) finds love again in a gawky but funny Swedish co-worker Marcus.

Delicacy is neither revelatory, nor particularly fresh but it’s still a lot better than that the majority of Hollywood rom-coms – largely down to Francois Damiens, who proves himself a great comic actor.

It suffers from an unclear narrative – is Nathalie settling for someone she’s not really into? Is this supposed to show us that you don’t need to fancy someone in order to fall in love with them? It’s more likely the point is that love moves in mysterious ways, etc, etc, but this isn’t made clear. Also, the idea of punching above/below one’s weight isn’t as shocking as the characters seem to think. However, director David Foenkinos mines as much comedy gold as he can from the situation – mostly to good effect. Stevie Martin

Cert 15

AS everyone knows; it’s really irritating when you go on a family camping trip not knowing there’s $4m in your trunk and that you’re being chased by ruthless killers who want it back.

Jim Caviezel is Nate Sidwell, a man hated by his family due to his past imprisonment for tax evasion. The trip is supposed to bring them together but, instead, they end up in the centre of a fairly average, rather dull action movie.

There are a few almost laughably predictable twists thrown in for good measure, a lot of intensity from Caviezel, and a suitably intimidating performance from Frain as leader of the bloodthirsty gang after the cash. Caviezel (My Own Private Idaho) and Frain (Sunshine) are both far too charismatic and interesting to be doing these character-by-numbers roles.

Antonio Negret’s direction gives them little leeway, and lacks the creativity needed to inject life into proceedings, leading to a saggy middle and a predictable finale after what could have been, at least, sort of fun.