Hey you, and welcome back to another edition of The 405 Film Digest. This week we're all about splitting opinion; or should I say, we're all about discussing rivalries between films, or dichotomies, or simply talking about that beautiful component of a film lover's enjoyment; arguing their point to anyone who will listen.

Don't feel like you need to read it all at once! Bookmark us or get that fancy Read It Later app, dip in and out, do with us what you will.

Danny - Film Ed.



The Cabin In The Woods

- Amelia Abraham

Is it a teen movie? Is it a comedy? No, it’s a horror film. Err, sort of. As with any given teen flick, Cabin in the Woods opens with a girl prancing around in her knickers, some jocks throwing an American football about and a dazed and confused stoner. Thankfully, an instantly witty dialogue will keep you in your seat just about long enough for the gang to take to the road and eventually reach a cousin’s “cabin in the woods”. I know, I know, how stupid can you be? Surely if you and your friends were young, reasonably attractive and each identically resembled a filmic stock character, you’d have more sense than to go holidaying to a sinister and isolated cabin. “Hello? Have you not seen Friday the 13th? Cabin Fever?” Apparently writer Joss Whedon has, as he demonstrates by taking almost everything that’s ever been done within the horror genre before and throwing it into a veritable melting pot of blood and guts, reinventing the slasher movie with a supernatural twist. The resulting pastiche is sure to split audience members down the middle (no pun intended); is The Cabin in the Woods hopelessly unoriginal or is it genre bending at it’s best?

As the film’s sophisticated tag line notes, upon reaching the cabin, “bad things happen”. To be more specific, the gang become embroiled in “a game of freewill” that never really makes much sense. Without giving too much away, what is seemingly a straightforward slasher plot is subverted early on when we are offered a parallel sub narrative revealing that our doomed teens are being watched and manipulated. By crosscutting the familiar horror action with an almost sci-fi, voyeuristic aspect, Whedon is able to comment on the sadistic spectator of the horror genre. Metafilmic in structure then, The Cabin in the Woods is also peppered with self-reflexive irony. When Anna Hutchinson’s character Jules dyes her hair blonde, the dye contains a chemical that compels her to behave almost embarrassingly seductively. Fran Kranz’ character Marty’s weed-smoking turns him into a stoner-come-prophet, who is enlightened as to the “puppeteers” controlling the group. Kristen Conelly’s straightlaced Dana is, as we expect, to become the Final Girl, because, even though she’s not quite a virgin, we are told that “you gotta work with what you got”.

Playing on convention then, The Cabin in the Woods is at once formulaic yet hybrid. Old tropes of realist-horror are recycled, take for example the camera work; expect frantic tracks through the woods and eerie pans behind trees. Yet, by converging murder, monsters, magic and more, The Cabin in the Woods is also as fantastical and playful as we would hope of any work produced by the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Trouble is, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s rollicking pastiche fails to reach full maturity. While the violence and graphics will satisfy any comic-book type’s insatiable thirst for action, the film’s ending, and with it, the narrative justification for everything that precedes, is deeply unsatisfactory and frankly quite perplexing. For this reason, it feels like the concept might have been better suited to a video game, where gratuitous killing doesn’t necessarily need to make sense.

Carefully selected under the criteria of “familiar yet impossible to place”, the entire cast are vaguely recognisable from God-knows-where. Inspiring the interminable frustration of “shit, what was he in?” I like to think that this was craftily intended by Whedon to detract from average, at best, performances. While veteran supporting actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are entertaining, and slip naturally into their roles as the subversive villains who provide much of the film’s comedy with their “we’re just doing our job” ethos, less can be said for the younger generation of actors. Surprisingly, this doesn’t work to the film’s detriment, but rather sits comfortably with its self-consciously camp take on the genre, as does an unexpected and hilarious cameo from a big name towards the end.

Ultimately then, The Cabin in the Woods is enjoyable if not taken too seriously, sharp humour intermixing with the kind of wild implausibility which provokes incredulous laughter throughout. Obviously it’s dark in the cinema, but I’m willing to wager that every eyebrow in the room is raised around the point when a character who has just been violently impaled in one scene is miraculously alive and kicking in the next. Again, the stuff video games are made of. Carefree Whedon doesn’t get bogged down with those rules of cause and effect that other oh-so-predictable scriptwriters subscribe to. Who needs “narrative resolution’’ when you can have a riotous and ridiculous CGI massacre? Here we have a film that would much rather transgress the confines of common sense and leave you wanting more… like, for example, an explanation of everything you’ve just seen.

Martha Marcy May Marlene Who? Or: Why One Of The Best Films Of The Year Has No Story

- Danny Wadeson

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a bona fide opinion splitter. Official ratings are high but from my own experience I've quickly found, to absolutely no surprise, that reactions and enjoyment of Sean Durkin's psychological thriller and Elizabeth Olsen's scintillating performance is already polarised. And like I said, with good reason, because the film essentially has no story whatsoever.

Ok, so that might be a little deliberately inflammatory, but hear me out. There are key events in the film, touchstones that massively progress your understanding of where and how the action is situated, and essential markers for getting under the skin of the protagonists/antagonists; although that dichotomy in itself is suitably blurry. In short, this is an incredibly complex film where motivations and cause-and-effect weave ethereally around one another, an ouroboros of a narrative that also cuts between past and present consistently throughout. The result is a gripping, powerfully tense character drama in which narrative a-b is purposefully obscured and which, most crucially, is definitively in media res.

And that, for me, is the crux of why I will remember this film for a long time and why, no doubt, it will continue to be discussed amongst a variety of circles as an important dialectic; that is, the story must exist outside of the narrative, but you really can only guess at what that story is. How did the eponymous doe-eyed young adult get here, and where does she end up? We're provided with zero answer on those fronts, and despite the powerful, powerful urge to cite the ending as proof of my point, I cannot in goodwill do so without the following HUGE SPOILER TAGS

The film ostensibly sets up a 'final' conflict of sorts that most directors would rely on for the film's climax and sense of closure; Patrick finally having tracked Martha down again just as she is not only on the very cusp of a somewhat arbitrary re-hab, but at her most conflicted about whether she indeed wants to be rehabilitated, only to cut you off, leave you hanging, leave you almost tangibly hurting to see and therefore tangibly know the outcome of Martha and Patrick's story. Similar then to another of 2012's most thought-provoking films, Shame, only with one crucial difference: we're not left guessing at how the next chapter of the over-arching story begins, but how our 'current' chapter ends. And that's a brave move.

END MASSIVE SPOILER

So Martha Marcy May Marlene pointedly has no story. Indeed, whilst cliff-hangers aren't exactly a recent narrative development, I'd still say this beautifully shot, impeccably paced and exquisitely acted film puts a new spin on things.


The Hunger Games Eats Up Breaking Dawn Box Office Take: Eat That Vamps!

- Alice Sutherland-Hawes

With the impending release of The Hunger Games, the first instalment in the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins bestselling trilogy, a lot of people have been saying it’ll be bigger than Breaking Dawn. One person even claimed it’d be bigger than Harry Potter but I’m ignoring that. I can completely see why it’d take more than Breaking Dawn did, and yes, I am quite biased, but I’ve tried seeing this from an indifferent person’s point of view, and I’ll try not to give too much away, so here we go.

Reason 1: Set in the not too distance future, the world in which the story takes place is alarmingly familiar. The whole world lives for a reality show involving 24 children fighting to the death that everyone is required to watch and, even worse, enjoy. While our world isn’t quite as extreme as that, we have so much reality TV that it’s almost impossible to escape it, almost to the point where you might as well join in with it instead of trying to ignore it. Already, the world of The Hunger Games is more relatable than that of Twilight.

Reason 2: The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is a fighter. She’s fought her entire life for survival but her problems are only just starting. Her determination to survive and to show the Capitol (the controllers of Panem) that she’s not another piece in their Games makes her a lot more likeable than the whimsical Bella who curls up in a forest when her vampire boyfriend leaves her. Katniss fights on, even after the most upsetting scene, she doesn’t give up. I don’t know about you but I’m more inclined to favour the determined girl fighting for her family and friends than the one who can’t live without a sparkly or topless bloke next to her.

Reason 3: Speaking of topless and sparkly people, neither of the two guys in her life (Gale, the best friend and Peeta, the other tribute) have to sparkle or take their shirts off to become likeable. Gale is brilliant as Katniss’s best friend and ally throughout her early life and up to the start of the Games whilst Peeta is the excellent fellow tribute who helps her through her time in the arena. These two are the support system that keeps her going, and honestly, who wouldn’t want them?

So yes, as you can see, I am completely biased towards The Hunger Games and I really wouldn’t be surprised if it takes more than Breaking Dawn. The characters are more relatable, the world is much more similar to ours and frankly, the concept is so utterly brutal that you just have to see/read it to believe it. It took me three reads to get my head around it and I reckon it might just work the same for the film…