This is a film that is best seen without hearing anything about it so I will try to keep spoilers separate and in red ink.
The set up is fairly conventional slasher-horror. Five friends, two hot chicks, two football player types and a stoner head off to a cabin in the woods for the weekend to get drunk, get laid and get stoned. As you’d expect something is lucking in the woods and wants to kill them all. They must try to fend off their attacker(s), figure out what’s going on and escape alive.
The film opens a bit unexpectedly with two men in suits talking about a scenario that they are currently dealing with. Then we get to meet the five young people who are at the centre of the story. Apart from occasional cuts back to the scientists who give very little away about what they are doing the action remains conventional as the group set off to the woods. On the way they stop at a scary looking gas station and meet an equally scary, Wrong Turn looking man who insults them and warns them about the Cabin. The group arrive at the cabin and get the feeling that something isn’t right when one of the rooms turns out to contain a two way mirror. And that isn’t the half of it! After a night of drinking they stumble upon the cabin’s cellar and from then on things become very strange indeed.
Much of the action is as you’d expect. There are long periods of quiet and fumbling around in the dark then short, sharp scares. The characters are also what you’d expect, from the slightly slutty blonde, to the funny stoned guy and the shy virgin. The script is funny and isn’t too cheesy.
After the cellar scene the whole genre is subverted. The film draws from the likes of Scream, The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even shares themes with The Hunger Games and The Truman Show but is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Unfortunately the opening titles give away a little too much for my liking but there is still more than enough suspense and intrigue. The film is like a puzzle which the audience has to try to unravel, combining ancient legends and practices with a modern Big Brother style subplot.
While remaining gory, funny and scary enough to satisfy casual horror fans, there is so much more for the seasoned fan. The twists and reveals are excellent and the film never truly reveals itself until the closing minutes. The very last minute I found a bit poor but up until then, it was excellent. All of the cast are good but I think that Fran Katz stood out as the stoner, funny man who kind of has an inkling as to what is going on. The scientists played by The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins are also excellent. Their dead pan performance gives the film a really creepy edge and they appear to have great chemistry. The script manages to avoid being too cheesy for the most part but it does slip into corny teen horror territory a couple of times. How much of this is intentional or not I don’t know. Josh Whedon and Drew Goddard’s writing and direction will be evident to those who know their work and there is a lot of Buffy in there but with the WTF’s of the likes of Cloverfield and LOST. The special effects are excellent, especially towards the end of the film and there are plenty of surprises right up to the final scene.
The standout scenes take place in the underground complex and are amongst the best I’ve seen in a horror film. It is like having every nightmare and horror movie monster coming at you all at once and is a great sequence that will probably be remembered for a long time. It is a memorable part of the film which I absolutely loved.
This is a really original horror that almost reinvents the genre. There is an awful lot to like about it. It is funny, a little bit scary (though not overly so) and it is very well made by people who obviously know about and love the genre. What people will remember though is the twist and reveals and I’d recommend it to anyone. As well as looking into the traditional horror themes, it also turns the camera on the audience and looks at our relationship with reality television and our desensitisation towards death and violence which I think is an interesting idea.