Destined to be adored by postmodernist critics, this horror/fantasy film was widely tipped to be the next game changer, just as Wes Craven’s first ‘Scream’ film remoulded tired slashers, I went along with more than an open mind – having sat through so many appalling ‘stoned obnoxious teens in a van’ movies in the last few years I was virtually willing it toward success single-handedly. With a Josh Whedon script it was obvious there would be plenty of ironic Pirandello-esque fourth-wall-breaking, albeit at a slick and shallow level – but would it really wipe the slate clean and reset the genre?
Well, I’m swimming against the tide here, but for me, no. There’s plenty of fun to be had in this tale of leering, preening teens taking a holiday cabin and discovering Something Bad, and there are some nice jokes and left-turn surprises to keep the whole enterprise bubbling along, but a fundamental flaw quickly emerges. If you’re going to undercut the horror with the addition of a High Concept, it had better be watertight – and this one doesn’t bear the weight of scrutiny. The shiny TV-slickness of the enterprise keeps you from investing any sort of belief in either half of the film, which leaves the audience without anyone to root for.
Herein lies the central problem; if the film is so keen to show up the ridiculousness of horror cliches, why should we believe the even more absurd central idea it proposes instead?
So we have sociology major Chris Hemsworth slowly turning into a dumb jock to fit the require horror movie cliché, along with a stoner, a slut and a virgin, but as they had no characters or revealing dialogue to start with, we have no vested interest in their changing fates. The High Concept side is more intriguingly scripted, and should probably have constituted the main body of the film, but by cutting away at key points between a film of literally two halves there’s no suspense or excitement, just a string of po-mo one liners and cheap soundtrack jolts for tweens.
Having combined ‘The Evil Dead’ and ‘Cube’, a final crowded quarter chucks in script pages from ‘Men In Black’, ‘The Mist’ and a dozen other films, as if the whole enterprise was knocked up by a video-store geek with zero interest in reality or human nature. It’s a fun and a fitfully exhilarating ride marred by sheer unbelievability and the late appearance of A Slumming Major Star who is required to deliver the eleventh hour Basil Exposition speech.
Compare this to the wonderfully high-concept fantasy ‘The Nines’ and you see the scale of the problem. That film really did feel like a game changer because its outrageous central idea was made painfully believable by Ryan Reynolds and Hope Davis working from a heartfelt script. ‘Cabin’ is a Buffy episode that’s only too keen to remind you how stupid horror films are, and in doing so it becomes redundant before it’s over.