Horror

The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is a supernatural genre-bender penned by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. It is a bizarre story that grows odder as it goes, but there is a focus on character, a decent atmosphere, success in keeping a young and handsome cast from becoming mere plastic eye candy, some intelligent dialogue and a few inspired approaches to scenes. There was enough skill involved in its creation to make a fine work. It had me at the opening; it kept me as events unfolded; it lost me at the end.

To summarize the plot past a certain point is to risk ruining a first viewing. At the beginning, five college students go to a cabin in a woods to spend a weekend drinking, playing games, and committing acts that many religions proscribe outside of matrimony. It is safe to share that the students are being monitored and manipulated, because this aspect is revealed from the outset. From the conversations of the monitors we piece together that the students are going to be put through some sort of gruesome trial, and that these students will, unwittingly, determine the nature of that trial. Beyond that I prefer to say only that beneath this bizarre surface is a whole lot more story to be uncovered.

There are a number of things the movie gets right. Despite the fact that the nature of the cabin is explained early on, there is still a mood of enigma about everything. The monitors become the mystery, rather than the cabin. The dialogue, despite Whedon’s continuing penchant for corny one-liners at the wrong moment, is streamlined, full of character, and delivers just enough information without talking directly to the audience. Tantalizing phrases suggest a deeper plot, hints of which are continuously doled out to us. Even one aspect that seemed initially disappointing, regarding the trite order in which characters must die in a horror movie, is given a surprising yet sufficient explanation later on.

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MOVIE REVIEW | The Grey Thumbnail

The GreyWhen an airplane bound for Anchorage, having departed from a remote oil refinery, crashes into a frigid Alaskan mountain removed from any sign of civilization, the handful of survivors must band together against the cold and the pack of wolves following them. Such is the scenario in director Joe Carnahan’s The Grey. If you think you have seen it before, you probably have, but probably not like this. The title is fitting both as a description of the bleak snowscape in which the actors find themselves as well as the mood that informs the work, that of an agnostic’s uncertainty and despair.

I do not expect to see another movie this good until December, unless recent trends are bucked. It is far more than a harrowing survival tale. It is also a very thoughtful piece, something made not by a technician, but by an artist. To be perfectly honest, after seeing Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, I did not think that Joe Carnahan had it in him. But he has crafted a very effective bit of cinema, something that can appeal to someone looking for some subdued tension and sudden thrills as well as a movie-goer more sensitive to metaphors and in a more introspective mood.

The opening shots of the movie are arresting in their austerity, atmospheric in their composition. It quickly becomes apparent that time will be spent creating a character to care about. Liam Neeson, playing John Ottway, is a man who is burnt out on life, who has, in some undefined way, lost the woman he loves. He puts the business end of a loaded rifle in his mouth, and only the howling of a wolf distracts him from his suicide. He misses the window of opportunity, the moment of resolve. I was intrigued, but it was not until after the plane crash that I was sold.

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The Thing

The ThingThe Thing, a remake of a remake of a solid sci-fi/horror film directed by, despite what the credits may tell you, Howard Hawks, is being projected onto silver screens in dollar theaters across the country right now. While a viewing of the movie does not immediately make clear why theater space would be made available for such a project, I strongly suspect that in the current climate of more-CGI-less-story-less-character, none of the other reels delivered to theaters contained anything more promising. In other words, for about the same reason I occasionally find myself eating broccoli. The best thing I can say for it is that there were a handful of stretches, some of them two or three minutes in duration, in which I forgot how forgettable the movie was.

In this third generation version, a young, good-looking scientist is asked to come to Antarctica and given no clear reason why. She is only told that it is important. When she arrives, she discovers the scientists stationed there are excavating an alien spacecraft buried in the ice a hundred thousand years ago. They have found a creature, also buried in the ice, that they believe came along with the ship. It is nothing more than a blurry form under the translucent surface, and next to nothing about it has been discovered.

They dig out a block of ice containing the extraterrestrial but, because this is sci-fi/horror, it escapes and is so unfriendly that people start dying. The rest of the movie is a desperate fight to survive in the most inhospitable environment offered on this planet that still has breathable air. For those keeping track, yes, there is a black man in this movie. No, he doesn’t make it. And that’s not a spoiler, either. As soon as I reported the monster’s escape from its prison you knew no black man was going to live long enough to read the credits.

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BOOK REVIEW | Diabolical by Hank Schwaeble Thumbnail

Diabolical by Hank SchwaebleDiabolical, by Hank Schwaeble, is a Jake Hatcher novel, the sequel to Damnable. It takes place a short time after the events of the first novel, but in a new location. Many of the same characters are back, with a few new ones, and the recipe for the story makes use of the same ingredients in just about the same proportions. How you felt about the first book is, within a reasonable margin, how you are going to feel about its sequel.

Jake Hatcher has moved out to California to lie low for a while, working as a bouncer at a bar. Despite his precautions, he is found by people who want his services. He winds up entangled in a plot where nothing is as it seems, a demonic apocalypse is at stake, and no one can be trusted. Plot twists abound, as do action and fighting sequences, a little sex is sprinkled in, and the resolution is anyone’s guess right up until the end.

There are some areas in which Diabolical is an improvement on Damnable. Though the first novel had some inspired chapter hooks near the beginning, Diabolical saves its best twists for later on. For this reason, as well as a smoother flow that eliminates a little dead weight found in the first book, the second novel reaches its climax in better fashion than the first. In particular, Schwaeble does a good job of keeping the reader guessing about certain characters. Whereas in the first one there was a general blanket of uncertainty covering nearly everything, in the second the author takes you through highs and lows, at times fabricating a specious certainty that is ripped away, only to be brought back again. If the novel were a marionette, I would say the puppet master has grown more adept at pulling the strings.

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