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DVD Review: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

★★★★★

“I’m on a reality TV show! My mum is gonna think I’m such a burnout”, states Marty (Fran Kranz), our pot-smoking guide through the warped world of The Cabin in the Woods (2011). The fact that he spends most of Drew Goddard’s film high seems appropriate in the face of the full plot. He’s the kind of geek who imagines a government conspiracy has tracked him and his friends to their remote getaway in the mountains. The truth is even crazier; a deconstruction of an entire genre that wheels out a parade of horror clichés and knocks them down one by one to see how they work.

To say any more would rob Joss Whedon’s script (co-written with Goddard) of its best surprises, but Whedon doesn’t wait to reveal his big idea: he shoves it in our face from the open, brimming with confidence, wit and a couple of mild-mannered performances from Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. The young cast members are equally spot-on, particularly Chris Hemsworth as brainy jock Curt. Together, they flesh out their stereotypes to represent something more than simple stock characters. Whether they’re making out with wolves or talking to zombie arms, every move the teens make undermines the scene before, but Drew Goddard’s breakneck direction keeps the tension building, right up to an absurd (and surprisingly intense) finale.

Why do people in horror movies investigate strange noises? Why do they split up as soon as things go wrong? What exactly is an evil molesting tree? The Cabin in the Woods explains it all, ruining every horror movie ever made with a whole heap of affection. And blood. And hormones. And other assorted fluids. “Can we get any more guts to put in this thing?” shouts one of the effects team on-set. It’s that kind of attitude that keeps things entertaining, both during the film and its impressive array of special features.

The DVD/Blu-ray release of The Cabin in the Woods has a solid 30-minute making-of featurette, plus footage of the Wonder-Con Q&A panel with Whedon and Goddard. But as you’d expect from a film with such inventive production design, it’s the other stuff that’s really rewarding: a personal tour around the titular cabin by Whedon himself, a look at Goddard’s bonkers decision to keep all the creature work practical (using Warner Bros’ giant Bat Shop and a team of 60-odd people), and even a guide to Marty’s pot-smoking tool-kit from an eager Kranz.

Taken as a complete package, it’s hard to tell who’s having more fun: the kids in front of the camera, the crew behind them, or the unsuspecting viewers watching at home. But like The Cabin in the Woods itself, that’s a Rubik’s cube you’ll have fun taking apart over and over again.

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Ivan Radford