The Cabin in the Woods

Editor’s Note: Being that the DVD for this little gem is dropping… well… today, we thought it was probably about time we introduce you to Kendra, and finally post the piece she wrote when the damned movie was in theaters. Have at it, Kendra.
– Colum

“This movie is fucking awesome.  Go see it.”

The above was my original review.   I felt that it really got the point across, especially considering that it’s best you know as little as possible about this movie before going in.  But, as it turns out, the powers that be here at Dreadful Tales actually expect more than that.  Well damn.  I think this may be some sort of hazing ritual wherein the newbie gets handed something totally impossible to review, and everyone else sits back to watch them go down in flames.  But what the hell, I’ll give it a shot.  I’m going to try my best not to spoil anything major, but honestly, if you’re touchy about that sort of thing, go see it, and then come on back!

For starters, full disclosure: I am a total Whedonite. A Browncoat. I live in the Whedonverse.  Whatever you want to call it, I love Joss Whedon and would totally have his babies.  As such, I was probably predisposed to like this movie.  But I fucking LOVED this movie, and even if you aren’t usually a Whedon fan, you will too.

The Cabin in the Woods was written by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) and Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, Cloverfield), and was also directed by Goddard.  The premise seems simple enough:

Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods. (IMDb)

This movie was actually shot in 2009, but was shelved until its world premiere at SXSW in March 2012.  Originally, the studio wanted to convert the film to 3D before its release, which Goddard and Whedon strongly opposed (thank the gods!). Following that, MGM delayed the film indefinitely as the studio went bankrupt, and the rights were eventually sold to Lions Gate in 2011.  Personally, I had assumed this film was destined for straight-to-dvd obscurity, until Chris Hemsworth grabbed a hammer (no, not that one) and Whedon suited up to direct The Avengers. Then they got a little more cred with the new studio, and here we are.

So, in the film, we have five friends (played by Kristin Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Fran Kranz and a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) who take off in their RV for a cabin located, you know, in the woods.  After ignoring the creepy ramblings of the local gas station owner, they proceed to settle in to their new digs, in typical swimming/drinking/sexytimes fashion.  Partway through the drunken festivities of the first night, they discover a cellar full of creep, and things go downhill from there.  One quick incantation read aloud from an old journal and their idyllic weekend is completely ruined by the appearance of zombies hellbent on killing the gang in blood-splattery ways.

But that’s about as much plot as I want to give away. The best part of this movie is how it manages to surprise you…especially when it goes completely balls-to-the-wall insane.  I really wish I could give away more; I think I could manage to convince anyone who is on the fence to go see this movie tonight, but doing so would probably take away from the overall experience.  Not that the movie is necessarily scary, but it does pack some solid jump-scare moments, along with a decent amount of gore.  I think the 18A rating has finally allowed these writers to throw in all blood and guts that they have been wanting to use for a long while. I am left feeling cheated that Buffy didn’t air on HBO; it would have been extra awesome!

The acting was pretty stellar all around.  The group of friends has an easy, believable camaraderie that made me want to party with them (although, probably not at this particular cabin).  They are obviously covering the necessary stereotypes of the genre, but they manage to add a little more depth: Hemsworth is a little smarter and less douchey than the average jock, Hutchison is funnier than the usual pretty slut, and Williams’s washboard abs are not the mark of a typical nerd.  Whedon has always written both his female leads, and their comic-relief friends, particularly well, and Connolly and Kranz are no exception.  Connolly shows the necessary vulnerability, but also brings in a fierceness that keeps her from being the annoying damsel-in-distress. Kranz’s stoner was definitely my favourite character, and fans of Dollhouse will not be surprised.  Picture Topher, except even less professional, and a way bigger fan of the cush.  Both of these actors put in standout performances. Surprisingly for this type of movie, you aren’t rooting for the death of any of these characters…although, it’s pretty kick-ass once the bear trap starts a-swingin’!

The direction is pretty remarkable, especially considering this is Goddard’s first time behind the camera. The camera work and cinematography are outstanding, perfectly setting the tone for what’s to come.  Obviously the writing is fantastic, full of trademark Whedon wit (including my new absolute favourite euphemism for a boner – husband bulge!).  This film managed to not only be one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in awhile, but also one of the best action flicks, or comedies.  Overall, it was the most fun I have had in a theatre in ages.

So, this movie is fucking awesome.  Go see it.

Alone by Brian Keene

When it comes to Keene’s fiction, it’s usually hit or miss with me. I’m not a rabid fan, nor am I a hater, and the man has some serious chops, that much we all know. It’s not often that I don’t like a piece of the man’s writing, mainly ’cause he’s got the genre in the palm of his hand, but when his fiction is a “miss” in my eyes, it’s usually his shorter fare. This, thankfully, is not the case with Alone. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t dig the ending so much, but the first two acts of the novella are borderline brilliant.

Insomuch as Keene’s signature voice is very strong in this tale, he’s coming from a place of loneliness and despair, hinting at the fact that the man knows what it is to go through some serious pain. It also just so happens that I read this book during a very tough period of my life (which I’m still not even halfway through), and so it hit home in so many different ways. Loss, desperation, separation, and the overwhelming sense of being alone… sigh… such is life. And Keene does a great job of taking a story and embedding the emotions right into your heart, giving you no choice but to feel what the main character is feeling – even if you’ve work oh so damned hard to stomp that shit down into a corner of your soul.

Thanks for dredging this stuff up, Dr. Keene. I hope someone has a couch appointment available for me soon…

When Daniel Miller wakes up one morning, something has gone terribly wrong. The power is out. The phones are dead. The house is silent. The street is shrouded in fog. Both his partner and their adopted daughter are missing. So are their neighbors. And so is everyone else in the world. Daniel Miller is the last person left on Earth… or is he?

So, in the midst of a separation and a brutal case of the blues, I ventured forth and started reading a story titled “Alone“. Smooth move, Poindexter. And no doubt, it had to be written by one of the kings of lonely, beaten down characters, Brian “more metal than your mom” Keene. Seriously, what was I thinking? I’ve read his work before. I knew what I was getting into.

He kicked my ass with Dark Hollow, one of my favorite books this genre has to offer; whooped me silly with Dead Rising and City of the Dead; did a number on me with the short story Burying Betsy; and played with my emotions through a few other pieces of genre mastery (even his entry in the hard to find Excitable Boys, Full of It, which is just wonderfully disgusting). Granted, I wasn’t so much a fan of Ghost Walk, Urban Gothic, An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley, or The Damned Highway, but most of what this man has to offer hits me in a place that usually stays quite well hidden. It’s literature like this that speaks to the blue-collar boy in me, and evokes something that I try to keep out of the public eye for the sake of retaining some semblance of composure. Something that was utterly torn out of hiding with Alone.

See, when Keene wants to talk to you about being alone, being scared, or being separated from that which you love, you have no choice but to identify with it. That’s what this novella does without blinking – it makes you feel.

Now, I know my usual snarkiness and sarcastic banter is what keeps people coming back for more (if only to figure out how not to review a book), but I’m going to have to put that on hold for a minute and tell you why this story is so goddamned different from all of the other pieces of horror fiction you’re apt to find out there.

First of all, Keene opts to introduce a main character in a homosexual relationship – something I can’t possible applaud louder for. Growing up on Poppy Z. Brite and Clive Barker, being a huge fan of LGBT horror fiction, and being one of the most sexually secure man-droids you’ll ever meet, I have to give it to Keene for taking the initiative to step outside of the boy’s club suppositions and do something else with the character in this work. And what’s more is the fact that Keene writes his character without a single stereotype or misgiving about the man’s sexual orientation. This is a big and down-to-earth move for such a notable fixture in the genre. Why others can’t do this, and that includes authors that are heavily into the LGBT scene, I don’t know.

When I started reading this novella, I wasn’t really sure what I was heading into, but it started off feeling a little like Darkness On The Edge Of Town. I dug the hell out of that book, and was sure that I was in for a good old Levi Stoltzfus kind of tale. I was wrong, as I’m usually told by the ladies, and was instead treated to Dan’s silent torture and mental collapse.

Keene uses the idea of suspending one’s disbelief well with this one, creating scenarios and rules that make a helluva lot of sense in his world, and not a lick of such in reality. It’s not until the end where you find out just why things happen the way they do, and by that point it doesn’t even really matter what’s going on. I felt like my ears were plugged, by breath was catching, I was claustrophobic, and sure that Keene had watched the last 4 months of my life from behind a tree – creepy Bollywood style.

The ending played out a little too easily for me, but it still rings true with the intention put forth for the entirety of the story. You can tell where the tale is going, but if you’re like me, you read for the sake of absorbing, and not for the whole “what happens at the end” crap that some other folks do. Keene’s got his swagger on high, but it’s this ending that makes things feel a little rushed. Regardless, he writes a mean story of heartache and loss when he wants to, making this reader feel a little uncomfortable when things hit this close to home.

Not to say that I’m stuck in a muffled, grey covered world or anything. I can just empathize with poor old Dan’s “what the fuck is gong on”, is all.

For a buck or two, Alone is a brilliant tale that will kick your heart’s ass, and beautifully exemplifies Keene’s ability to write you into a state of awe and woe, and keep you coming back for more.