NZFF: Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon fans, rejoice. Bradley Whitford fans, rejoice. In fact, rejoice anyone with an interest in innovative, intelligent, outside-the-jack-in-a-box filmmaking. Cabin in the Woods is what Snakes on a Plane failed to be: a genre movie with an intentionally generic title that actually achieves something whip-smart as well as entertaining.
One admission: I'm not all about the Joss. Buffy, Firefly and finally direction of a decent feature film in The Avengers (sorry Serenity fans, I can't join you there) - this pedigree is not what brought me to the cinema. But knowing the man is considered something of a visionary, the hype around Cabin makes it a must-see for anyone who sits through endless genre movies and yearns for something novel. And novel, this certainly is.
Like Kevin Williamson's early intentions with the Scream franchise, Cabin is fully self-aware in its constitution: a group of five college students head off for a weekend in someone's cousin's eponymous holiday house, driving their motor home off into the wilds where cellphones and internet cannot reach them. They meet a creepy guy en route whose workshop looks like the props table for a slasher movie. There are allusions to sexual activity between the hot girl (Kiwi Anna Hutchison, doing a sterling accent) and the buff guy (Chris Hemsworth from Thor). Onward they all head through the woods, until they meet their final destination.
But let's take it back to the beginning. Before we meet our band of cliches, two very fine actors of film and TV are walking through a nondescript office environment, white shirt sleeves rolled, talking about "work". Bradley Whitford runs his character just like Josh Lyman from The West Wing, which is hugely thrilling if you watch the rest of the film as if it's the president's chief of staff who's running the show. Next to him Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins gives considerable clout to the type of picture that would normally be peppered with no-name, no-talent, C-grade actors just starting out. Kudos to Whedon not only for coaxing them on board, but throwing the audience this delightful curve ball.
The less said about the story, the better. After all, it's a horror, right? You probably get the crux of it. But in fact Whedon's take on tradition rapidly turns into something entirely clever, exciting, frightening and hilarious, where the audience laughs at genuinely well-written jokes rather than its own exclamations of fear.
With creativity like this, the mind boggles at how Whedon might approach his next movie - Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing...
* Sarah Watt is the Sunday Star Times film reviewer. Read her blog here.