Tag Archives: The Cabin in the Woods

Evil Dead – Gore, blimey!

If you go down to the woods today... Jane Levy in Evil Dead

If you go down to the woods today… Jane Levy in Evil Dead

The lights go dark. Menace settles on the audience. Evil Dead has begun. What heralds this new devilry? Not a demon spawned from hell itself, but a beast from the past, from your past! A winged horse, charging from the depths of the fog right at you. Yes, that’s right – when was the last time you saw the TriStar logo?!

The very appearance of that once seemingly omnipresent pegasus gives a retro feel to proceedings before the film itself has even begun. A rebootmake of cult classic The Evil Dead with heavy sprinklings of its culter classicker sequel Evil Dead II, Evil Dead (no “the” makes it more recent) follows the familiar path of those two films; young adults in an isolated cabin unleash chaos through a cursed book.

How exactly a new take on The Evil Dead can exist in this post-Cabin in the Woods world is at first baffling, but Evil Dead manages to support its existence through some clever plotting, a few unexpected twists, fine effects and a sheer commitment to be as outrageously grotesque as any film can be and any stomach can handle.

Beginning with a Hills Have Eyes­-style hunt through the woods for a runaway girl, followed by a violent, terrifying human sacrifice, Evil Dead introduces us to our utterly disposable youths in traditional fashion. Mia (Jane Levy) is going through a difficult time and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) has rented a cabin in the woods where they can get away from the world for a while. Their friends, self-important geek Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and grumpy Olivia (Jessica Lucas) are along for the ride, as is David’s transparent girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).

The simple twist on the usual secluded party is that the gang have assembled to help Mia kick her mild addiction to heroin. “Let’s play cold turkey” she says as she dumps the last of her stash down a well that is almost certainly a portal to hell. This is of course no ordinary cabin; its previous occupants collected skinned cats the way a family in 1995 collected Beanie Babies, and the basement contains a book bound in human flesh and tied shut with barbed wire. Bookish Eric investigates.

Fright reading: The  Naturom Demonto was sealed for a reason

Fright reading: The Naturom Demonto was sealed for a reason

Throwing an opium-free tantrum (or perhaps possessed by the cabin’s evil), Mia storms off into the woods, where she is promptly raped by a gargantuan thorn bush in a scene marrying the most grotesque moments of The Evil Dead and REC 2. Soon the inhabitants of the cabin are turning into Deadites, flesh is getting pierced in unimaginable (until now) ways and survival seems more or less impossible. If only a preposterous plot twist could save the day…

The feature debut of Uruguayan filmmaker Federico Alvarez, whose robopocalyptic short film Panic Attack! broke the internet back in 2009, Evil Dead has the backing of the original film’s three champions; director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert and iconic star Bruce Campbell. Despite this, it has a far less tongue-in-cheek feel than the original trilogy, and the lack of a lead as memorably charismatic as Campbell and his cult alter-ego Ash Williams does leave the film a little wanting. But Alvarez has in many ways improved on the originals, most notably in the inventiveness and sheer gruesomeness of the kills. Better still, Alvarez has elected to use almost exclusively on-camera effects – there is no evident CGI to instil that additional protective layer of fantasy between you and the movie. When a tongue gets slit open with a box-cutter, you’re seeing a physical object getting sliced in two. The superb makeup effects add to the sophisticated, ambitious look of what might otherwise have been a basic splatter picture.

There’s humour when there needs to be, with a half-severed arm providing the film’s most spine-shakingly awkward laugh and a few witty references to the original trilogy, as well as a nod to Bruce Willis’s weapon selection scene in Pulp Fiction.

The cast (with one exception) are all adequate, with Levy deserving extra credit for fully committing to some excruciatingly nasty scenes. Her performance as both recovering addict and possessed hellspawn make for an interesting and original juxtaposition, with both sides of the character requiring exhausting levels of thrashing and swearing. What if Regan McNeil wasn’t in need of an exorcism at all, but just desperate for a methadone fix?

If anything, Evil Dead lacks jump scares, but it is more effective in creating an aura of dread than any horror film since The Blair Witch Project. The sheer quality of the gore effects on display will make this a Halloween staple for generations to come, even if it never quite escapes the cult shadow thrown by its predecessors.

3/5

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The Avengers, by Marvel, who Assemble – Review

Thor and Captain America watching the box office returns

It is now four years since Iron Man was released, a decent superhero movie that still felt a bit like any other. The big difference came once the credits had rolled, and Samuel L. Jackson appeared as comics spymaster Nick Fury to foreshadow The Avengers. This was an unprecedented move on behalf of Marvel, the comics powerhouse behind this almighty band of heroes. Actors crossed over between the ensuing films, and unlike the contradicting X-Men films, continuity was maintained – when one character is called away from the events of Iron Man 2, he shows up in the events of Thor.

And now the superheroes are brought together; Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man 2 support Black Widow and Thor cameo star Hawkeye, all under the watchful eye (singular) of  Nick Fury; to battle Thor’s nemesis, and brother, Loki. And while that sentence is a mouthful, and the idea seems over-ambitious, it works. It really works.

You see this? This works.

Because this isn’t just sandwiching some characters together like Freddy Vs Jason or the proposed Batman and Superman movie of the 1990s. Despite their enormous differences these characters have, they have already been set up to exist within the same universe, so the film can cut to the chase without the slightest hint of being patronising.

The film opens with Loki, now an intergalactic outlaw, being given a chance for revenge by a shadowy otherworldly figure, provided he can summon an alien army to Earth. To do this he needs the Cosmic Cube (the macguffin from Captain America: The First Avenger, a further link), which is in the hands of Nick Fury’s agency SHIELD. Once he has achieved that, Fury has no choice but to call in the big guns, summoning superheroes from around the world to take down the impending threat. Thor, the god of lightning, returns to Earth to help take down his brother.

“Kneel before Zodki.”

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. The characters gel, the dialogue snaps back and forth for the most part, and when things explode they explode in style. Writer/director Joss Whedon, best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer and countless prematurely cancelled TV shows, brings his comic book fascination and expertise to the table, creating a superhero movie that is as silly as can be while also remaining utterly confident in itself.

The incredible star cast are solid across the board. Robert Downey Jr. does what he does best as Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark; it’s a role he has down to a T. Mark Ruffalo takes over the maligned role of Bruce Banner, the rage-riddled man behind the Hulk, and makes a strong effort with it. Chrises Hemsworth and Evans show the same committed passion for the roles of Thor and Captain America that they did in their solo adventures. Scarlett Johansson makes a case for a solo adventure of her own as the super-lithe assassin Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner has some fun as bow-and-explosive-arrow expert Hawkeye, even if he does get Cyclops’d off for half the film (X-Men 2 fans will get that one). Tom Hiddleston continues to charm as the Machiavellian Loki, although his character lacks the Shakespearean drama here that he had in Thor. The side are let down, ever so slightly, by Samuel L. Jackson, who invests every line with the same shouty drama that he did the infamous punchline in Snakes on a Plane. His scenes, by and large, steal energy from the film.

“Quick, this is our only dramatic scene in the whole movie, say something powerful and memorable.”

Fortunately this film has plenty of energy to spare, and much of that is down to Whedon’s witty script. While the drama drags in the first and second acts, there are enough one-liners and moments of superb comic timing that make up for these pitfalls. One gag about the getting of and not getting of pop culture references, involving Captain America and Thor, deconstructs the very idea of pop culture references in the same way that Whedon’s other current release, The Cabin in the Woods, deconstructs the entire horror genre.

Whedon is also careful not to let any two heroes hog the spotlight, à la that regrettable other “superhero” team-up, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In the central action sequence that closes the second act, two of the heroes with the potential to steal the film, Iron Man and Captain America, are given the least exciting task, while Thor and Hulk spar, Black Widow and Hawkeye get their martial arts on and even fan-favourite Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) gets to blow stuff up!

The final act, in which the Avengers fend off an invasion of New York City, visually calls to mind the endless finale of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but it is so less cluttered and more focused, giving each character a set objective and a limited space and time to achieve them in. Surprisingly, it is the Hulk who makes this sequence his own, rampaging across the screen in gleeful bounds of carnage. You’d be hard-pressed to hold in a raucous cheer as the Hulk smashes everything in sight!

HULK AWESOME!!!

The Avengers is far from perfect, but it is so much greater than what it might have been. Setting itself up nicely for both a sequel and a return to the solo films, this will be one of the most fondly remembered and rewatched blockbusters of the decade.

Avoid the 3D if you can, and please, stay for the bonus scene in the credits. Because why wouldn’t you?

4/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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The Cabin in the Woods – Review

It's twisty

(Disclaimer: since the spoiler police are out in force, I will make it clear that the following review gives away minor plot points, or “spoilers”, from the first 20 minutes or so of the film. None of the major revelations or twists are revealed, only a basic sense of what makes this film noteworthy. If you wish to see this film tabula rasa, turn back now…)

On paper, comedy and horror should mix about as well as an Adam Sandler cameo in The Wire, and yet for generations now writers have seen the uses of this unlikely genre clash. James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is as much a camp comedy classic as it is a commentary on the folly and hubris of man. Comedy in horror can lull you into a false sense of security, or calm you down after a fright. It can satirise and scrutinise. Sometimes it’s the horror itself that is funny. Almost 80 years after Bride of Frankenstein, through countless B-movie pastiches, The Evil Dead, Scream and the Final Destination movies, we come at last to The Cabin in the Woods.

Co-written by Joss Whedon, who altered the layout of modern horror with Buffy the Vampire Slayer through its post-feminist heroine and pop-culture-obsessed demons, this on-the-surface by-the-numbers scary movie was always going to be a clever beast; perhaps a little too clever for its own good. But throw in co-writer and first time director Drew Goddard, who penned several episodes of Buffy and Lost as well as giving a failed defibrillation to the monster movie genre with Cloverfield, and this ultra-self-aware horror pastiche takes on a life of its own. Like Doctor Frankenstein, Whedon and Goddard struggle to control the monster they have created.

The plot thickens... sexily!

The writer duo revel in horror movie clichés. Five attractive college kids take a break for the weekend to party at a secluded cabin that is as inviting as it is spine-chillingly terrifying, à la The Evil Dead. But there’s something very new in this film, too. Elsewhere, in a high-tech facility – or what might have passed for a high-tech facility in the early ‘90s – a pair of technicians settle in for a busy weekend of their own. When the horrors start befalling the unfortunate youths, the mysterious technicians are able to witness it all through Big Brother-like hidden cameras. Soon they’re placing bets on what gruesome fates will befall the victims. But why?

Twistier than a giant cobra, The Cabin in the Woods relishes in sending up the horror genre. The college kids begin the film with modest character profiles: Chris Hemsworth plays buff group leader Curt, who is also an A-grade student on a sociology scholarship; Kristen Connolly is Dana, the cutesy one who has just ended an inappropriate relationship with one of her lecturers. But as the film goes on, the characters all descend into horror movie clichés: Curt becomes an alpha-male anti-intellectual bully; Dana becomes meek and sexually conservative. The opposite seems to happen to Marty (Fran Kanz), who starts out the ultimate horror movie trope, the stoner kids, all puffs and quips. Against type, he is the first to become alert to the fact something very strange is happening in the cabin.

"Oh shit, we're in a horror movie, aren't we!?"

The most fun happens at the facility, where the technicians (almost forgotten one-time Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (The Visitor?) and The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford) switch between discussing their curious work and banal topics such as how to baby-proof an apartment. When two of the inhabitants of the house begin to have sex, the technicians frustratedly question whether or not the camera angles will allow them to see breasts – a question raised millions of times by adolescent-minded males of all ages while watching horror movies.

After cleverly establishing itself in the first act, The Cabin in the Woods stumbles into average horror movie territory in its midsection – it cannot parody without falling prey to the necessary beats and rhythms of the genre. The film is redeemed in spades however by its unpredictable, inspired and hysterically manic final act. To say any more would be to spoil one of the most unexpectedly surprising sequences you will see this year.

There’s plenty of the signature Whedon wit on display, and some pleasingly nasty horror too. The film may not be the deconstructionist masterpiece that early reviews might have you believe, but it is fun and smart and a worthy entry in the list of great revisionist horror movies. Its finest achievement is the sly suggestion that every horror film ever made has had its own pair of technicians puppeteering events. In that way, Cabin in the Woods has really left its mark on the genre.

3/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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