Directed by Fede Alvarez
Written by Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues
Much is often made of the uninspired, recycled culture in Hollywood in this day and age. So many people complain of the onslaught of remakes, reboots and sequels, and I will even admit to being among them. Even just this week Pixar’s announcement of the Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory, dispensed nearly universal groans around the blogosphere, even of devout Pixar fanatics. The other side of the coin are those who love living in the same world over and over again, taking another ride with beloved characters. Neither party will ever truly get their way, but the art of the remake lie in the hands of those filmmakers willing to take risks and not make a film that is all homage, but also balance the originality by staying in the same ballpark to please the fans. It is not an easy nor a envied task, but in rare instances the magic can be recaptured, merely in a different decade, a different cast, and a different outrageous delivery.
If you have never seen the wacky original from 1981, it was written/directed by Sam Raimi, now famous for the Spider-man trilogy, and starred Bruce Campbell in what can only be described as perhaps the campiest performance ever set to film. The cabin in the woods (made famous by the meta-hit of the same name) returns from the original to star yet again as a desolate retreat for 5 friends, gathered together to help their friend kick a drug habit cold turkey. You have the addict, her absent brother and his girlfriend, the nurse, and the high school teacher. The old group of friends is together again, but when a creepy and strange book found in the basement of the cabin is mixed with the on edge withdrawal of the druggie, madness ensues, demons arise, and no one can be counted on to make it out alive.
Unlike most remakes and reboots, we get the privilege of having Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi return as producers on the film, which allows it to keep its campy feel while allowing writer/director Fede Alvarez to put his own spin on things. I would say that it takes things more seriously, but that would be a fib. The production values are higher, and the performances are nowhere near as wacky as anything Campbell gave us in the lead, but the over-the-top tone is still there, no mistake. But in this installment, we get more than we bargained for in terms of gory violence and buckets of blood. No, not buckets, 18 wheeler’s. There is a ton of blood, and ton of guts, so ridiculous it demands to not be taken seriously. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. The cinematography is eerily bleak and drab and the score is big and bombastic, both suiting the film quite well.
Instead of having the actors really ham it up for the laughs, Alvarez chooses instead to ham it up with the scares and violence. This doesn’t let the actors off the hook of course, they are questionable performances all around, but a lot of that has to do with the way they are written, making those classic horror film decisions that spur the audience to verbally abuse them on screen. “So dumb! Why are you doing that!?” We should all exclaim, but for me that sort of brings about a certain level of nostalgia for many of the great classic horror flicks. It doesn’t have to make sense. And of course, it would have been a misstep to try to recreate a Bruce Campbell type appearance anyway. The demonic side of most of the characters are funny, even with moments that recall the classic The Exorcist, but nothing can rival Campbell.
The film has been marketed as the scariest film you have ever seen. I would have to disagree, but I must also commend it for its scares, which are equal parts disturbing, violent and effective. Plenty of jump scares, which I detest as cheap, but also some great sequences of terrifyingly improbable gore that raised the hairs on my neck time and again. Fede Alvarez definitely toes that line between bad over-the-top and good over-the-top, but in the end he comes out of the mess of blood and guts more in the good than the bad, mostly because he just goes for it, no holds bar, building to about the most ridiculous conclusion one could imagine. It pays homage, to be sure, but the result is far from its source material, and that’s a good thing too. I know the film will have its detractors, but dog gone it, we just had way too much fun in my theater.
***1/2 – Great (Groovy!)