JUMPSCARECUT: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Directed by: Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford

Written by Fiona Underhill

Directed by Drew Goddard (who has a film out right now which I highly recommend: Bad Times at the El Royale) and co-written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, The Cabin the Woods is a comedy-horror in a similar vein to the Scream films, in that it is a satire of conventional horror tropes and comments on them in a post-modern, self-referential way. It contains many Whedon hallmarks – including his signature style of humour which comes across in the writing, but also some of his regular actors, including Amy Acker and Fran Kranz (both of whom feature in Whedon’s lovely version of Much Ado About Nothing).

Cabin in the Woods was actually filmed three years before it was released, in 2009, which goes some way to explaining why the actors are all ten years older than their characters. It also helped that it was filmed before Chris Hemsworth made Thor, but was released in 2012, just as he was getting super famous, thanks to Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012). Having seen Hemsworth as Thor does it make it slightly harder to buy him as a college student, however. Same with Jesse Williams, who is best known for playing a doctor on Grey’s Anatomy.

The five main characters are all college student friends and are archetypes, but audience assumptions are subverted throughout the film. Hemsworth is Curt ‘The Jock’, Williams is Holden ‘The Scholar’, Kranz is Marty ‘The Fool’, Anna Hutchison is Jules ‘The Whore’ and Kristen Connolly is Dana ‘The Virgin.’  Even as the characters are introduced, these stereotypes are played around with, picked apart and commented on. Dana, the Final Girl is introduced in her underwear, Curt is clearly a very well-read Jock, Holden has abs, Jules may be a ‘dumb blonde,’ but she’s only just dyed her hair (and this will have consequences) and Marty is clearly the wisest one amongst them. Marty is very much playing the Randy character (from the Scream series) here – he is one step ahead of the game, he can see it being played and he makes many references to ‘the puppeteers.’

Before we are introduced to this group of young people who are going to the titular cabin in the woods for the weekend, we meet Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), in their corporate scenario, bitching about their boring home lives. The mundanity of their lives and jobs is constantly juxtaposed with the task they are actually doing, which is orchestrating the brutal murders of the group of young people. This is the main source of the humour in the film, particularly with Whitford’s deadpan delivery. Their rivalry with Japan is another source of amusement and seeing the ‘evil’ in Japan defeated by a bunch of 9-year-old school girls working together is one of the film’s highlights.

There is much foreshadowing that happens at the start of the film and not just from the creepy gas station harbinger. One of Marty’s first lines is (referring to himself in the third person); “they fear this man. They know he sees farther than they and he will bind them with ancient logics.”

There are two pivotal scenes in the film – the first is when the group go into the cellar of the cabin and find it stuffed full of old artefacts. Each one (apart from Marty – who warns them all against being in there) picks up an object and starts examining it. Each of these objects could summon an unspeakable horror, but Dana starts reading the Buckner diary, which summons the Zombie Redneck Torture Family. This cuts to one of the most famous scenes in the film – Hadley and Sitterson with a whiteboard, taking bets from the office on which hideous creature would be chosen; “I’m never gonna get to see a merman.”

The second pivotal scene is when Dana discovers Marty (who she believed to be dead). Marty has been hiding in what appears to be a grave, but on further inspection, is actually an elevator. This leads to one of the most ambitious and audacious scenes in any film that I’ve seen (horror or otherwise) – the elevator is made of glass and through it, other glass elevators can be viewed. Each one contains an unspeakable horror, some of which emerge slowly from the inky black darkness and others appear suddenly, without warning. It gives me thrills and chills just thinking about it now. This sequence culminates with my favourite line from the film; “good work, zombie arm!”

Once in the underground complex, Dana and Marty make two nihilistic decisions – the first being to release the contents of the elevators into this confined space, creating chaos and flushing out the ‘bad guys.’ The second is right at the very end, when they make the ultimate decision to let the ancient ones rise again; “it’s time to give someone else a chance.”

The Cabin the Woods is one of the funniest comedies of the last decade, plus has some genuinely scary moments. It manages to pull off a high concept and successfully juxtaposes two contrasting worlds until they collide in an explosion of blood and zombie vomit at the end. The inventiveness of the creatures and the way they’re revealed to the audience is one of the most original sequences in movies. It features a fantastic cast, a witty and clever script and is very well structured. The Cabin in the Woods is one of THE best horror movies and should definitely be included in your October viewing line-up.


The Shape of Water

Year: 2018
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones

Written by Sarah Buddery

It is hard to believe that over 11 years have passed since arguably Guillermo del Toro’s finest work, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. Considered by many as his magnum opus, his films have been varying in quality since, although never not magnificent to look at. Supposedly the only film the visionary director has been 100% happy with, ‘The Shape of Water’ is possibly the only other del Toro film to rival the masterpiece status of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, and that is not something which should be said lightly.

Back in familiar territory of dark, gothic fairy tales, ‘The Shape of Water’ is an absolute masterstroke, full of fantasy, wonder, gorgeous visuals, and a subtle nod in the direction of influential old Hollywood movies. This does put it into the category of films the Academy will unquestionably fawn over, but it is impossible not to fall in love with this film. ‘Pan’s’ was beautiful and twisted tragedy, whereas ‘The Shape of Water’ is beautiful and twisted romance, and it is completely stunning.

Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins) plays a mute woman, obsessed with routine, she works nights at a government facility. Whilst she has strong friendships with her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), her disability prevents her from forging meaningful connections with the people she comes into contact with. That is until she happens across an amphibious creature which is being held at the facility she works at for testing. Somehow able to develop an unexplainable bond to this creature, they connect through basic communication and a mutual understanding.

To spoil much more of the story than mentioned above would be a crime, and this is one of those films which is good to go into as blind as possible; although its festival buzz may be hard to silence! The relationship between Eliza and the creature goes to wonderful and incredibly unexpected places, and despite being fantastical in nature, it never feels anything less than completely and utterly genuine. To watch this relationship develop is simply mesmerising, and Sally Hawkins gives a performance which is breathtaking. To be able to communicate so passionately and with the range that she does, without words, is a monumental achievement, and if you were yet to make your mind up about Best Actress Oscar prospects, it might just be worth putting some money on Hawkins right now.

The supporting cast, particularly Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon, are also perfectly matched to their characters. Spencer provides some welcome light relief, and fresh from her acclaimed supporting role in ‘Hidden Figures’, she continues to be a dependable and consistently watchable actress. Whilst normally the best thing about any film he is in, Michael Shannon does play second fiddle to Hawkins’ incredible lead performance, but he excels at playing the genuinely menacing and detestable villain. He’s not quite up there with the abhorrent Captain Vidal from ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ – few people are – but he is on fine form and gives an incredibly memorable performance.

Whilst on the whole it is a thing of beauty, it equally never shies away from some truly horrifying moments, and there’s a couple of genuinely shocking, gory scenes, just in case you’d forgotten you were watching a del Toro film! Initially this may not seem in keeping with the rest of the film, but it works so perfectly, and gives it an edge which helps it to truly stand out.

Put simply, ‘The Shape of Water’ is utterly magical in every sense of the word, and “more” than what you could wish for in all conceivable ways. It is more than a love story, more than a fantasy, more than a story, and more than a film; it is a transcendental masterpiece, and one which words can hardly do justice. With incredible performances, absolutely stunning visuals (special nod to the underwater scenes which are totally breathtaking), masterful direction, and a unique and memorable story, ‘The Shape of Water’ deserves to be looked back on with the same fondness and reverence that ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is. A modern masterpiece, and a truly spectacular film.

Sarah’s Rating: 10/10