Art & Culture

Everyone has been trying hard to review this film without giving away too much of the plot, or at least the reason that it is a different kind of horror film to your average run-of-the-mill scary movie. I would hate to be the one to say too much, but I will just point out that it's a load of old rubbish – if that doesn't spoil things for you.

For reasons of corporate confusion, this film has been released a couple of years after it was made. Since that time, Chris Hemsworth (who appears in it) has become a star via Thor, and Hunger Games has become a big hit. I mention the latter fact because – still without giving anything away – there are similarities between the two films. I could also mention Bunuel's Exterminating Angel, and The Eagles' song Hotel California ("You can check out any time you want…"), as further clues to the great mystery that must not be revealed. But since the film itself opens with a scene which makes it clear that we're in a different kind of horror film, and proceeds to cut between two different stories (which are obviously connected), then perhaps I shouldn't worry too much about the surprises.

OK, we have 5 young people taking an SUV to a cabin in the woods. On the way they meet an old geezer at a gas (we're in America, see) station who behaves in a stereotypically mad manner, but the kids ignore him and barrel on down the road till they reach the wooden shack in the middle of nowhere. The jock, the stoner, the good girl, the bad girl and the egghead all live and up down to their allotted roles, behaving as if they've never seen a horror film before. So when scary stuff happens, they are, like, totally gutted. The creatures who come to get them happen to be homicidal zombies, but they could just as well have been any other horror film cliche, since, as you may have gathered, this is a film about horror film cliches. And here we come to the nub of the problem.

Horror films are meant to be scary. And occasionally funny, so that we can let off steam before the pressure mounts again. And the nature of the scariness is that the tension is unrelenting, moving from one crescendo to another, so that we have to scream along with the victims. But, because this film keeps cutting away to the context within which it's taking place, a) we keep losing tension and b) we keep being reminded that it's only a film. And because the characters are – deliberately – portrayed as stereotypes, it's hard to care what happens to them. We know it's only a game, we know that they're not like real people, and we know that surprises are being prepared for us.

My feeling is that Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon (who together wrote, produced and directed the film) decided to deconstruct the horror genre, and opted to show the artificial mechanics behind the process whereby we are expected to jump like Pavlov's dogs when the sound and vision combine to give us a poke in the ribs. This is a worthy enough idea, but it simply doesn't work, for the reasons mentioned above. Worse still, in the final part of the film, Whedon and Goddard's imagination runs even wilder, and the film becomes an altogether different beast, and – in the process – downright silly. In the attempt to try to come up with some kind of explanation for what has gone on previously, the script lurches into WTF territory, with all manner of wild and absurd stuff happening, that undermines whatever limited value the story had had up until that time.

I suspect that the film will appeal mainly to lovers of horror films, who find the genre endlessly fascinating, and love to see it taken to pieces and put together again in an unusual fashion. Scream did the same thing a few years ago, and rather better than this film. It has a few moments of being scary, and a few laughs, but by the end I was just waiting to be released from the cinema.


By Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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