Laura (Morgan Monnig) is an optimistic but cautious young woman who knows, with the help of friends, that, as the cliché goes, good men are hard to find. Even when they look good on the outside, secrets beneath the surface wait to disappoint…if you’re lucky, that is. Truth, she is reminded, is often much worse than disappointment. Yes, although clichés are not always true, there is a basis for their frequency; they come from somewhere that is real, and Laura’s mind works overtime on that. However, what exceptions women make when looking for “the right man.” What an unreliable feeling intuition becomes.
Entering (or rather arriving) into our story is John (Jason Vail)–ominously fitting the “typical guy” metaphor with an equally-fitting “typical guy” name. Quickly enough, however, John is one who seems too weird too often…and far from a typical, normal guy–especially to hit it off with a woman. So, John and Laura’s weekend getaway to The Cabin begins a date with no chemistry, and anything but the beginnings of a love story. Alas, it’s instead the start of the horror tale that it is. Yes, in The Cabin, horror is indeed “a many-splendored thing!” Or maybe I should say “a many-splintered thing,” since John doesn’t even chop wood like a “normal” guy!
What does the cabin have to do with the story, and what’s inside? Is it anything like Laura’s overreacting friends advise her to avoid? Is it a material object only, somehow manifesting memories (or nightmares) from times (or terrors) gone by? Is it a place where normal people become demented and dangerous, dooming all who enter to death…or worse? Or, is it just an ordinary place, made ominous only by its inhabitants and the secrets they keep? Oh, and what’s the meaning of the cabin’s name–as all cabins have one–setting it apart from the rest, as all names do? Surely, with a name like Chanticleer (from Chaucer’s famous tale), it’s something horrifically classic as well. Surely, something’s hidden behind that door where no door should be, begging curiosity…again! Or, surely an idyllic place isn’t so dangerous after all; and maybe we’re being fooled again. But, just as surely again, just as most things in horror are, this cabin’s no place like home. Yes, no matter how many times you click your ruby reds together, the nightmare remains!
The Cabin is a movie that packs, within its thirty-minute screen time, enough tension and mental mayhem to fill the best feature length thrillers I’ve seen. What makes it work is, quite simply, what it does so effectively in the viewer’s mind. From beginning to end, the feeling is unsettling—a sensation that crawls over your body, slowly, again and again—that something is deadly wrong. It’s an intuitive, gut feeling that we want desperately to communicate to the perceived person in danger, but we can’t–at least partially because, at times, we’re not sure who it is ourselves.
All of the questions above (although I’ll answer none of them), are those I had as I watched The Cabin. Yes, these teasers tear at the mind, making us, like the characters, uncomfortable as we take the vacation vicariously. Like a fly on the wall, we watch close enough from afar, making it all the more real at a distance. The last scene makes us an unwilling witness, unable to look away, seeing less, only to imagine more. Finally, we feel complicit or in danger as a character therein ourselves. Yes, finally, The Cabin succeeds, most effectively, at putting the viewer in the setting, at a most disturbing time. Excellent!
Yes, don’t be too sure who to fear in this story.The Cabin uses, most skillfully, our own clichéd expectations against us to keep us uncertain; just when we think we know, we don’t. (I lost count of the times I said, “It can’t be who I think it is…or maybe it is.”) Possibilities toy with the mind, testing always, the odds of the typical playing itself out; this approach makes The Cabin indeed all the more fresh and isolated from it’s predictable genre siblings. Yes, in the environment of backwoods horror, this cabin is one that stands out in the woods.
What also stands out is the performance of the story’s costar, Jason Vail. I have previously seen Jason play the lead role in Gut (also reviewed on Space Jockey Reviews); his presence in The Cabin is again the ingredient for a movie’s success. Vail plays his awkward character to perfection, with an ironic natural ease; as usual, he is forceful as an actor, yet subtle enough to make his characters believable and real. John, as portrayed by Vail, is not even comfortable with himself, telegraphing his insecurities like a beacon, concealing nothing he thinks. His thought’s are worn on his sleeve, and we see them well. But again, be careful what you think. Some of the most deceptive people are those who deceive themselves; and, in doing so, they deceive us even more! In The Cabin, Jason Vail does another standout job deceiving us as an actor. And that, my fellow Space Jockeys, is the best an actor can do!
This brings me again to Laura and Morgan Monnig. Monnig is a actress I have not seen before, but look forward to seeing again. She plays the part of Laura with exactly the character that works. Laura, as played by Monnig, is intelligent but naive, vulnerable, too optimistic for her own good, and too unlucky to be safe as such. Monnig’s Laura is an appropriately unpolished personality, in many ways matching and rivaling the awkwardness of John. Like a girl-next-door, Laura is one you’d find in your own neighborhood…if not a little farther out of town. It is exactly that charm, natural as it is for Monnig, that communicates to the viewer and makes Laura so authentic and real as someone we know–yet just as authentic to a fault, as many more we know! Monnig, like Vail, connects to the audience as a real person, making believability complete!
As for gore in The Cabin, the amount is not a lot–onscreen that is! However, just a minute before you think less of the story superficially. What’s not seen on screen is al the better imagined off…as usual. There is, for example, a particular scene that, while mainly occurring just out of sight, is one that I have officially placed on my list of those most disturbing in a movie. It reminded me (because I often forget) how powerful I can be in painting the picture myself–just as we all can do. Yes, I’d swear a thousand times I actually saw that particular gruesome thing, punctuated with just enough blood and just enough twitch on impact. I admit that I watched that scene at least half a dozen times, to study again, how less was more–how it disturbed me even more as, yes, all good horror movies should.
And finally, for all of the above, kudos to writer and director Tommy Faircloth. With The Cabin, Faircloth has built (wink, wink), a short film that leaves a long-film memory. His camera angles are the mind’s eyes, watching places we want to see, avoiding those better unseen–for the sake of showing more, all the better. His POV is at times voyeuristic, at other times floating like a bird, with the trees, over landscapes, and better yet, deep into the thoughts of those frightened…and those demented. With Faircloth’s perspective, the camera is a character, with personality, ever becoming, possibly, the viewer…and next victim. Excellent!
The Cabin is a getaway worth taking, to places we all fear, but always love visiting–in movies, that is! It’s a double dose of danger, dread, mayhem and more, with moments of gore magnified more in the mind! So, pack your movie-watching bags, leave comfort at home, and make your way to a new neck of the woods. The Cabin is remembered in nightmares and forgotten…nowhere!
For a description of Rocket Rating 8.5, click on the Rocket Meter above!