Ridiculously entertaining horror is well worth waiting for
FOR many months now, the internet has been abuzz with tales of the originality and the genius of The Cabin in the Woods.
Partly that's because it was first slated to open in 2010, so it's certainly been doing the rounds for long enough.
For once though, a film's years on the shelf are nothing to do with its quality, rather an abandoned 3D conversion and a bankrupt studio that left its release in limbo.
The other talking point has been about how any reviews of it should be spoiler-free.
That's how all reviews should be, but it's made tricky in this case because the thing that could be construed as the major giveaway happens in the first twenty minutes or so, and could therefore legitimately be discussed as part of the basic plot, especially if you've seen the trailer.
But even that much would be unfair, and much of the joy of this insane comedy horror comes in its discoveries, and so knowing as little as possible is definitely a good thing.
So in the interests of playing along, let's just say that there's more going on than meets the eye.
It's the directing debut of the writer of Cloverfield, Drew Goddard, who co-writes with Joss Whedon. With Whedon's Avengers movie opening in a couple of weeks and one of that film's stars, Chris Hemsworth (Thor), now a recognisable face appearing here, the timing seems ideal.
Outwith the 'thing that sets it apart', it's a very typical set-up. A bunch of students, among them Hemsworth and Kristen Connolly, head off for a weekend of partying at a cabin in the woods.
We've seen it a thousand times before in horrors good and bad. There's the remote location, dodgy-looking locals, and stock figures within the group, like the jock and the geek.
But this isn't cliché, it's Goddard and Whedon putting us exactly where they want us to be, before the members of the group start to get picked off by oh, let's say, monsters.
But meanwhile we've also been introduced to a pair of scientists (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in what looks like a Bond villain's underground lair.
They're clearly up to something, and there's a good chance it's going to involve the cabin. And the woods.
What follows is as much a deconstruction of the genre as a horror film in its own right. Like Scream was a decade and a half ago, it's incredibly knowing yet not clever-clever for the sake of it, and reminds the audience why they love horror, whether as something formulaic and jaded, or as comfortingly familiar.
But though it may seem a strange criticism for a praiseworthy horror, it's just not very scary, certainly not providing the ferocity of something like Drag Me to Hell.
But then that was nowhere near as funny as this, so it's swings and roundabouts.
The premise, execution and laughs see it through. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Evil Dead are the most obvious touchstones, though the closest comparison is probably Evil Dead II, which so deftly manages to blend laughs and frights.
But then, when this gets to a certain point, you'll be hard pushed to find a horror that isn't referenced in some way. It becomes something truly demented by the final stretch, and luckily we have a very likeable cast capable of getting us there.
All the actors playing the students are rock solid, but Jenkins and Whitford take it to another level. They make a brilliant double act, and their increasing exasperation as things get out of their control provides many of the film's funniest moments.
If only it could have somehow been a more effective scare-machine, The Cabin in the Woods could have emerged as a masterpiece of the genre. Instead it's just ridiculously entertaining, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Director: Drew Goddard
Running time: 95 mins
Daft and directionless French rom-com
THIS strange, tonally uncertain romantic drama from France begins as a lightly comedic, almost silly bit of fluff as Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) and her husband enjoy their lives together before he's unceremoniously bumped off in an accident.
She throws herself into her work and we cut to three years later with events seemingly returned to their frothy origins.
Enter Markus, a Swedish co-worker whom Nathalie kisses out of nowhere and suddenly the film is about their fledgling relationship – and yet still it can't find its feet.
It's not unamusing, just daft and directionless, but for all its meandering, it starts to get its hooks in the longer it goes on.
François Damiens is a delight as the guileless Markus, and most of what works about the second half is down to him, though Tautou still struggles to recapture the magic that shot her to stardom in Amelie a decade ago.
Directors: David Foenkino, Stéphane Foenkino
Running time: 109mins
Silly slice of sci-fi action is agreeably goofy
BELIEVE it or not, this silly slice of sci-fi action is based on the classic board game in which players call out grid references to try to sink each other boats.
From that slimmest of platforms, a two hundred million dollar blockbuster has been born, one that begins after mankind sends out signals to an earth-like planet and objects from space land in the Pacific, turning out to be aliens intent on taking over the planet.
Luckily the world's navy is gathered in Hawaii for exercises, and Taylor Kitsch's naval loose cannon must rise to the occasion and save the day.
A few diversions and a good half hour drift by before we really get down to it, but once it kicks off astonishing visual effects are piled on to wreak devastation on a massive scale, unleashing a grinding metallic orgy of destruction that's fun for a while and yet surprisingly repetitive and lifeless in places.
Kitsch shows much the same stolid charm he did as John Carter, but Liam Neeson is criminally underused as the admiral in charge, largely because much of the fleet is isolated, leaving Kitsch and his crew as the only ones carrying the fight.
It's as cheesy as Independence Day and as chaotic as Transformers but agreeably goofy, never asking to be taken too seriously, which is probably just as well.
Director: Peter Berg
Running time: 131 mins
GRAND ILLUSION (U)
Gloriously remastered all-time classic
ONE of the all time great anti-war films gets a 75th anniversary re-release in a gloriously remastered version.
During the First World War a pair of French soldiers (Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay) attempt to escape from a series of prisoner of war camps, ending up at a seemingly impenetrable castle overseen by Erich von Stroheim.
Though it set the blueprint for all POW movies to come, and its influence can be seen in everything from Casablanca to Inglourious Basterds, Renoir's classic is less about the details of escape than the futility of war, one still fresh in the memory, and with the growing fear that another one would soon follow.
As Fresnay's aristocrat bonds with von Stroheim to the concern of Gabin, its dissection of the class divide only adds to the poignancy, but it's the humanity that shines through in a film that's moving, witty and acted and directed to perfection.
Director: Jean Renoir
Running time: 114 mins