Like the seemingly generic location at the center of the movie The Cabin in the Woods has a purposefully familiar exterior. But it's a facade and in the film's first few minutes writer/director Drew Goddard draws back the curtain to unveil an innovative and unexpected world. The setup is simple: five twenty-somethings head for a vacation in a lone shack upstate but when they arrive things quickly take a turn for the worse. The run-of-the-mill supernatural antics aren't simply for our amusement — there's another force behind the scenes orchestrating the quintet's demise for a bigger purpose. The mystery behind those horror movie tropes is Cabin in the Woods's clever twist a riff that's wickedly funny and endlessly fulfilling.
The first people we meet in Cabin in the Woods aren't the soon-to-be-terrorized young folk but two technicians Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) who coordinate the Cabin's entertaining mischief. They're like employees pulled out of Office Space susceptible to the same droll ups and downs of any job —their gig just involves murdering co-eds. They sit in a control room orchestrating each piece of their plan with well-placed hurdles (cue the creaky door!) and rehearsed extras (enter: mysterious gas station owner). If that screams spoiler don't fret; the who the what the where and the why are all kept secret unraveling in parallel and commenting on the routine horror plotline.
Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon don't let the scary movie thread fall to the wayside painting their ensemble with colorful characters and great talent: despite being stunning creatures the perfect types for a serial killer to chase down with a a giant knife Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Jules (Anna Hutchison) are smart savvy and sharp (a tangible sign of Whedon's influence); Curt (Chris Hemsworth) and his buddy Holden (Jesse Williams) are big and brutish — but not without personality; and Marty (Fran Kranz)... loves weed. Only after they arrive at the cabin a whiff of pheromonal gas in the air do they transform into the archetypical horror characters. All according to plan.
Cabin in the Woods has its cake and eats it too simultaneously clicking as a terrifying horror film a cackle-worthy satire and a thought-provoking dissection of the genre. Alongside its send-up of the overplayed "cabin in the woods" mechanics are grander ideas. Why do we watch? Goddard evaluates every perspective but never in a didactic fashion. There's a fury of imagination in every scene every joke Goddard and Whedon's script taking every opportunity to push the concept to unanticipated places. Across the board all the actors are able to balance the unusual heightened realism with Hemsworth proving his knack for comedy and versatility as an up-and-comer.
Cabin in the Woods is non-stop fun from beginning to end concluding with a grand finale that no amount of spoilers could ever dilute. At SXSW I called Cabin "the most crowd-pleasing movie of all time" and while that may seem sensationalist I assure I'll be rewatching this one for a long time.
Dateline: 10 000 B.C. The day of the last hunt has arrived. Oh dear. If an ancient prophecy holds true a remote mountain tribe’s quiet existence is hours away from coming to a bloody end. Not that it matters to a hunting party comprised of mud-splattered Abercrombie & Fitch himbos--nothing’s going to come between them and a hot plate of woolly mammoth meat. But no sooner is dinner over than “four-legged demons” attack. Actually they’re just slave traders on horseback but they quickly make off with plenty of women and children including Evolet (Camilla Belle). This “girl with the blue eyes” just so happens to possess the tribe’s “promise of life”--whatever that is. Enter D'Leh (Steven Strait). Our would-be He-Man loves Evolet so he organizes a rescue mission with the help of tribe elder Tic’Tic (Cliff Curtis). Their destination is a place unlike anything they have seen before (because they didn’t see Apocalypto): a city with pyramids built by slaves and ruled by a purported god the evil Almighty. First though our heroes must make it there alive--which is easier said than done when there are hungry (and poorly computer-generated) saber-toothed tigers on the prowl. Forget about Belle replacing Raquel Welch as the prehistoric playmate of your dreams. It’s my sad duty to report that are we denied the pleasure of seeing Belle strike some sexy poses in an animal-skin bikini straight out of One Million Years B.C. But it’s nice to know that even in the Mesolithic period our dreadlocked damsel in distress has access to the spa services needed for her to pass as the well-scrubbed face of a Vera Wang perfume campaign. Everyone else though needs a hosing down. Besides keeping herself clean and healthy Belle’s only other responsibility is to give the occasional hard stare that emphasizes Evolet’s piercing blue eyes which she does with aplomb. The Covenant’s Strait may have the beefcake physique of a warrior but he doesn’t possess any noble qualities. He’s more dolt than D’Leh natural born leader. Just listen to the sleepy Strait’s morale-boosting Independence Day-ish speech and you’re be inspired to fall on your own spear. Live Free or Die Hard’s Curtis can barely contain his embarrassment at having to fight at Strait’s side. 10 000 B.C. doesn’t boast a villain worthy of our hisses but Affiff Ben Nadra and Marco Khan at least project some menace as at-odds slave traders. “Only time can teach us what is truth and what is legend ” intones narrator Omar Sharif with all the pomposity of Seinfeld’s J. Peterman. Fine but 10 000 B.C. is hardly the stuff of legends. There are too many problems with this serious-minded but fantastical prehistoric romp to enjoy it on its own terms or as an unintentional exercise in pure camp. Forcing the cast to speak with grating generic European accents makes the inane dialogue harder on the ears. The plot borrows too liberally from Apocalypto. Even when Emmerich stops treading on Mel Gibson’s toes 10 000 B.C. also comes across as a de facto prequel to Stargate what with its antagonist being a pyramid-obsessed supreme being. You even brace yourself for the Almighty to reveal himself to be Jaye Davidson. All could be forgivable if Emmerich delivered on the action. He doesn’t. A woolly mammoth stampede proves to be inferior to similar scenes in Jurassic Park and King Kong. A phorusrhacid attack provokes laughter because it looks like our heroes are fleeing from a pissed-off Big Bird. The climatic revolt ends as soon as it begins. No one demands much from Emmerich. Just pure spectacle. So why does 10 000 B.C. feel no bigger than a natural history museum mini-diorama?
Top Story: Van Der Beek Weds Actress McComb
James Van Der Beek, star of the WB show Dawson's Creek--which recently ended its six-year run--married actress Heather McComb (All the Real Girls) Saturday in Malibu, Calif., The Associated Press reports. McComb wore a Vera Wang gown, and the groom wore Armani, Van Der Beek's publicist, Cindy Guagenti, told AP Monday. The reception was held under a white organza tent. Guests included Van Der Beek's Dawson's Creek castmates Michelle Williams, Meredith Monroe, Busy Philipps, Hal Ozsan and Mary-Margaret Humes, along with fellow actors Soleil Moon Frye, Teri Polo and Eric Balfour.
Eminem Buys a House
Not just any old house. The bad boy rapper bought a 29-room, 15,000 square-foot mansion previously owned by former Kmart Corp. chairman Chuck Conaway, AP reports. Eminem paid nearly $4.8 million for the house, which sits on six acres near Rochester Hills, Mich.
McCord Runs for SAG Prez
Screen Actors Guild treasurer Kent McCord, best known for co-starring in the hit TV show Adam-12, has decided to run against current SAG president Melissa Gilbert, Variety reports. McCord has been one of the more vocal critics of Gilbert's presidency, including the recent merger proposal between SAG-AFTRA, which fell 2 percent short of approval last week. SAG board member Esai Morales has agreed to serve as McCord's running mate for the newly created post of secretary-treasurer, Variety reports.
Lee and Viacom Settle Dispute Over Name
Director Spike Lee has settled his legal dispute with Viacom, Inc., over the media giant's plans to rename its cable network TNN "Spike TV." According to Reuters, terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Walter Tolub lifted an order that he had issued last month barring Viacom from using the "Spike" name. A source familiar with the situation told Reuters the lawsuit was being withdrawn and that TNN was proceeding with the name change.
Bachelorette Cashes in on Wedding
Reality television star Trista Rehn, aka The Bachelorette, and her fiancé Ryan Sutter will receive $1 million for the TV rights to their fall wedding, AP reports. The couple also had to give the ABC reality show's producers final say on everything from the bridal gown to the flowers, according to The Smoking Gun Web site, which posted the contract between the show's producers and Rehn and Sutter on Monday. ABC will air the two-hour wedding in the fall.
Princess Di Reincarnated as Comic Book Superhero
No, we are not kidding. Marvel Comics has apparently developed a new comic book that features the late Princess Diana as part of a team of super-powered mutants, Reuters reports. The five-part series, called Di Another Day, is part of Marvel's X-Statixa monthly comic series that takes a satirical look at fame and pop culture. The first of the Di comic books hits stands Sept. 10.
MSNBC Host Fired for Derogatory Remarks
Conservative cable news station MSNBC fired Michael Savage Monday from his job as the host of The Savage Nation after the controversial radio personality called a caller a "sodomite" and wished AIDS on him, Reuters reports. On Saturday's show, Savage railed against one caller, saying "Oh, you're one of the sodomites! You should only get AIDS and die, you pig!" An MSNBC representative was not immediately available for comment, but a source familiar with the matter confirmed to Reuters that the show had been canceled. MSNBC hired Savage in February to host a TV version of his popular talk radio show; despite protests from gay rights groups at the time, the show debuted in March.
Role Call: Ryder Eyes Embers, Claire
Winona Ryder has signed up to star with Sean Connery in Milos Forman's Embers, and is also attached to Robert Altman's The Widow Claire. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Embers is about two men (Connery and Klaus Maria Brandauer), once best friends, who meet 41 years later to discuss what drove them apart--a young woman (Ryder) who ended up marrying Connery's character but may have been having an affair with the other man. Claire is set against the backdrop of World War II; Ryder plays a young widow with two children who is caught between the affections of two men--a sweet young soldier about to go to war and the town's most sought-after playboy. Jake Gyllenhaal and Matthew McConaughey have met with Altman about the male roles.