Last week I had the great fortune of seeing two films that I had been fervently anticipating for a grand combined total of six years. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods and Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End are two projects that provoked nigh unreachable expectations within me the moment I heard about them. And the thing is, despite those mesosphere-high expectations, both films managed to surprise me.
When was the last time a horror movie surprised you? It's been a really long time for me. I love horror in every iteration. I even love bad horror; I just find it so much more fun and palatable than bad comedy or drama. Although I will eagerly gobble up the most pedestrian slasher flick or found footage debacle, what I love most about horror is its ability to be something brand new. The rules in horror allow for so much, and yet filmmakers so rarely take advantage of that pliable universe. In their own very different ways, Cabin in the Woods and John Dies at the End bend that universe in every conceivable direction.
I didn't want to review either movie for two reasons. First, Devin comprehensively nailed his reviews, as you know he tends to do. (Read Cabin here and John here.) But I also didn't want to review them because, when walking out of both screenings, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of immense complacency, a feeling that I would like to embrace rather than examine. That's not to say that either film would fall apart upon closer analysis; rather, I've spent many subsequent hours asking questions, carefully interpreting and reviewing elements of both films only to find myself more satisfied a week later.
But with both Cabin and John, I was seized by that very rare sensation of magic that movies can sometimes offer. And sometimes, magic should simply be allowed to transform you. The Cabin in the Woods is so incredibly smart, funny, fresh and fully immersed in that slasher universe that you and I have always loved but so often find disappointing. Whedon and Goddard manage to invent something entirely new for the genre without in any way diminishing what has come before. Cabin could not exist without Halloween, Scream and a hundred other films. They step on those stones with great reverence on their way to something utterly current.
And Coscarelli's John Dies at the End instantly pushes the audience into the deep end of a mythology so bizarre and all-encompassing as to make comparisons to any other film fruitless. Coscarelli takes the imagery in David Wong's terrific novel and turns it into pure energy. The film is so dynamic, so fun, so immediately immersive that it took me a good night's sleep to shake off the heady feeling of still existing in that indescribable multiverse.
This post is disorganized and I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with it, because there's really no reason John Dies at the End and The Cabin in the Woods, two singular films with very little in common on the surface, should be lumped together. Except for this: I saw them within days of each other at South By Southwest, amidst a passel of fully competent and mostly satisfying horror movies, and with each, I felt a marvelous sense of being given the opportunity to experience something surprising. For someone who gets excited about the least surprising horror films out there, I'm having difficulty expressing what that means to me. But it means a lot.