Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Ignoring the warnings of a creepy gas station attendant, five college students: a jock; a blonde; a geek; a stoner; and a virgin; go for a weekend away to an isolated cabin in the middle of the woods. While there, they discover an old diary and recite a passage from it in Latin. This results in them accidentally raising a family of redneck torture zombies, who proceed to kill them all, one by one. Oh, and by the way, did I mention, all of this is being remotely monitored by a group of technicians in a high-tech control room, who are secretly influencing the outcome of the events.
2011 was certainly a good year for deconstructionist horror comedies. Along with the ultra-weird, low budget horror parody, Detention, we also have Buffy creator Joss Whedon’s higher budget The Cabin in the Woods, which attempts to answer all of the big questions raised by decades of horror movies, such as why do the characters always split up when danger strikes; and why is the nice girl always the last survivor?
Because I watched Detention and The Cabin in the Woods reasonably close together, drawing a comparison between them was inevitable. Both provide an interesting and hilarious commentary on the cliché-ridden horror genre and are made better by knowing as little as possible going in. The Cabin in the Woods has, by far, the better cast (including a cameo, right at the end, by one of Hollywood’s sci-fi/horror legends) and the better special effects. The monster-filled finale was worth whatever it cost to make. However, story-wise, Detention wins hands down. Given that Joss Whedon is the rock god of the horror genre, I’ve probably just committed sacrilege with the last comment, so before my inbox becomes clogged with hate mail, let me elaborate.
The script of The Cabin in the Woods is typical Whedon and will undoubtedly please his legions of devoted fans with its trademark blend of scares and dark humour. While I was watching it, I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially not being able to guess what was going to happen next. Yet, afterwards, when I had time to think about it, I realized that it didn’t really make too much sense. In order to answer all of the questions raised by horror films past, Whedon had to create a set-up that raised more questions, which are even harder to answer than the first ones. Detention, on the other hand, is possibly the weirdest film I have ever seen, and is much more far-fetched than The Cabin in the Woods. Yet, in spite of this, it still managed to provide an explanation (albeit unlikely) for almost everything that happened in it. For this reason, it came out on top.
That said, anyone who likes Detention is probably going to like The Cabin in the Woods and vice versa. As the saying goes, if you only see one movie this year, you really need to see more movies. Watch both Detention and The Cabin in the Woods and have fun making the comparison yourself. You’ll never see horror movies the same way again.
Verdict: Joss Whedon makes a welcome return to the horror genre. Just don’t expect it to make too much sense.