The Cabin In The Woods (2012); A Night In The Woods (2011)
Oh this is interesting.
No, really, you'll like this.
You know how often I lament the state of modern horror on this here blog? This here blog which you're reading, right now, as we speak – so to speak?
Well. Tonight I watched, back to back, two films; both horrors, both made in the last year or so.
One of them relied upon established tropes, the other used ides which, whilst by no means unique, remain relatively novel.
One of these films was boring to the point of being appalling. The other will likely be considered a masterpiece within the year.
For a bit of late November fun, see if you can guess which is which!
A clue: The answer is very interesting.
Ahem, both films involved misdeeds and miscreants in the woods. One involved a Cabin In The Woods. It was called The Cabin In The Woods. The other involved three young people spending A Night In The Woods. It was called A Night In The Woods.
Let's look at The Cabin In The Woods first.
I'll get it over with now: It's this one which I anticipate will be considered a masterpiece within the year.
Remember Scream? Of course you do. The appeal of Scream was in how it played with the various tropes of horror in order to create something that was at once thrilling and self-referential. It was good. In retrospect, though, if you take away the trimmings you're left with pretty standard slasher fare.
The Cabin In The Woods is similar to Scream in that it takes all the standard horror tropes and uses them to create something that, on first viewing at least, is unlike anything you've ever seen before.
OK, maybe you'll have seen lots like this before. But, if you watch this without knowing much at all about the plot, I don't doubt that you'll be surprised repeatedly by the places it takes you. Just when you think that you've got the film pinned, something else happens that serves to raise the eyebrows further.
It's simultaneously a celebration of where horror's come from and an exploration of where it can go. I don't want to write too much about it because a lot of the love lies in not knowing what comes next.
But I will say this: I recently watched 2001: A Space Odyssey again. That film has three possible “types” of scene. Either there's dialogue, or there's music or there's silence.
I've come up with three similar “types” of scene for The Cabin In The Woods. Either it's hilarious, terrifying or awesome.
And when I say awesome, I do, to some extent, mean that inspires awe. But to a greater degree, I wish to use that word in the American sense. The last half hour of The Cabin In The Woods is awesome in the same way the lobby and bullet-dodging scenes from The Matrix were awesome.
But would the film still be great on a second viewing? Yes. You'll notice more. And that's why I believe it will be considered a masterpiece within the year. Once the initial love's died down and people realise that it's still brilliant, well. That's when the real praise will be ripe for the heaping.
Or, at the very least, it will be considered a cult classic.
I became aware of this film on the really quite excellent Folk Horror Review blog. From the trailer, it looked like a British spin on The Blair Witch Project. In actuality, it's The Blair Witch Project stripped of everything that makes it worth watching.
The “found footage” sub-sub-genre may only be about 13 years old, but everything that could possibly be done with it had already been done by 1999.
I understand the appeal. When things are shaky and grainy, the horrors look more real. But one question will always arise which serves instantly to destroy the suspension of disbelief that's necessary to subscribe to any horror film: Why are you filming?
Well, usually the question's one of why are you still filming. In A Night In The Woods, though, it's unclear as to why they were even filming in the first place.
Worse, the appeal of The Blair Witch Project was less in the novelty and more in the graininess. Through being so ugly, it felt real. A Night In The Woods, though, is filmed on a digital camera. So too is every film these days. As a result, it ends up looking just like every other film but with inferior camera angles.
It follows the misadventures of three friends: Brody, Kerry and Leo. American Brody spends the first half hour guaranteeing that nobody who watches this film can possibly like him. He's snarky, sarcastic, humourless, clingy, creepy and, in the first five minutes, asserts American superiority over Britain using the medium of Stonehenge. Twat.
It's Brody who films everything. And, fair enough, he's told off repeatedly for filming everything, and a later exposition scene – as clumsy and shoehorned as it is – serves to offer a possible explanation as to why he might be filming – but it doesn't help. Sometimes he holds the camera at arm's length away from him and keeps it perfectly still. Other times he rests it on a rock and just keeps it running, perfectly framing an important conversation. Why?
The problem is, had they dropped the found footage conceit, they would have something which, if by no means remarkable, might have at least been worth watching. The setting, you see, is beautiful. Bleak, rain-splattered Dartmoor, with all its gloomy prisons, standing stones, crows and mossy trees. The first half hour, spent exploring the landscape, is stunning. At one point it's filmed using infra-red during the day, making the already breathtaking landscape look strangely alien. In fact, mute the first half hour and set it to a Richard Skelton soundtrack and you might be onto something.
Though it says a lot about the poor quality of a horror film set in the woods when it actually makes you want to go camping. After having watched Jaws, you'd take a desire to swim as a testament to the film's failure, wouldn't you?
A Night In The Woods, had it been successful, would have left me scared of the dark. Instead, it left me wanting to spend a night in the woods. Make of that what you will.
The final hour is spent in darkness and it's almost identical to the final hour of The Blair Witch Project – rustled tents, night-vision, lots of running through the woods. Nothing you haven't seen before, even if you've only ever seen it once before.
Christ, people shouldn't bother with the found footage conceit anymore. It was dated within an hour of The Blair Witch Project's release.
So there you go. Rely on standard horror tropes and I'll applaud. Try something relatively new and I'll describe your work as awful.
There's no pleasing me, is there?
Or perhaps the secret's in the writing? The Cabin In The Woods is written by Joss Whedon. He knows what he's doing.
I've got it. If horror is to have a future, it needs good writers.