Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2011. Lionsgate, Mutant Enemy. Screenplay by Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard. Cinematography by Peter Deming. Produced by Joss Whedon. Music by David Julyan. Production Design by Martin Whist. Costume Design by Shawna Trpcic. Film Editing by Lisa Lassek. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2012. Online Film Critics Awards 2012. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2012.
A group of college kids go out to a secluded cabin in the woods for the usual drinking and canoodling and, what else is new, a madman appears and begins killing them one by one. Sounds like the most formulaic plot for a horror movie except, in the hands of co-screenwriter and producer Joss Whedon, it’s actually part of a humorously self-aware set-up: the entire project is being overseen by a group of strangely motivated suits who have placed these youngsters in this situation and are orchestrating all the mayhem for reasons that become increasingly clear as the plot progresses. When the surviving members of the troupe move beyond their rustic setting and into a highly mechanized underground lair where no end of movie monsters run rampant, you know you have traveled beyond the usual genre and into the imagination of a gleeful trickster. Despite these clever twists and the humorous irony of a plot that emphasizes the voyeuristic nature of exploitative cinema, implicating the viewer as much in the delight of harming gorgeous young people as it does the bad people doing it in the film, this one takes a while to really warm up, and its clever originality rarely makes up for dull performances and even duller characters. Its tongue-in-cheek emphasis on subverting expectations also minimizes its attempts to be frightening: before turning the tables, Whedon and director Drew Goddard don’t do much in the way of actually scaring you and it seems as if they were hoping to get that in there too.