‘The Cabin’ – Silly Over Substance
The Cabin, the lensed-in-Sweden feature debut of director Johan Bodell, takes the old “terror in the woods” trope and attempts to inject some new twists. Unfortunately, this Cabin is quickly condemned by confused character motivation, overly showy editing and sequences that are more silly than scary.
The film opens with a familiar ’80s slasher-style prologue. An old man is sitting at home watching a zombie flick on television when he is startled by a commotion in the yard. He goes outside to see what’s going on, and determines that a cat is responsible for the ruckus. Satisfied, he returns to the house, turns off the TV and goes upstairs to play the organ (!), only to be chopped up by the masked killer who’d followed him inside.
Some time later, a young American couple, Harry (Christopher Lee Page) and Rose (Caitlin Crommett) are driving through the Swedish countryside to a cabin by a lake which is owned by Harry’s family. He is looking forward to seeing the old place, but she despises the idea. A lot.
When they stop at a roadside market, a bunch of elderly locals stare at them obsessively as if they’re naked and on fire. And even though they plan to stay at the cabin for a week, they don’t pick up any food or provisions. Harry merely buys a six-pack of beer, which he decides to drink while driving, much to Rose’s ever-increasing fury.
They arrive at a farm across the lake from the cabin (because they have to take a boat to get there) and are met with hostility by the resident psychopath Sven (Cabin screenwriter Erik Kammerland). You see, while they were driving up, he was in the house chainsawing an old man while wearing the same mask the killer was wearing at the beginning. Even though they don’t yet know the true depth of his depravity, it’s immediately obvious that he’s off his rocker.
Suspicious of these new American arrivals, he refuses to allow Harry to use his bathroom and tells him he can’t park his car there. But when they ask to borrow his boat to row across the lake, that’s just fine.
Rose had warned Harry that if the cabin is a dump, she’d be furious. It is, and she is. They go back to the other shore to go back home, but their car has been stolen. Once again, Sven refuses to offer them any help. He has no telephone, they can’t stay there, and the nearest hotel is 80 miles away.
Having no other choice, they row back to the cabin, still with nothing to eat or drink. Even though they’d just spent a day bickering obscenely, they suddenly profess their undying love and fall into each other’s arms. After making passionate love, they settle down for a blissful night’s sleep, only to be awakened by the sound of the cabin’s windows being shattered one by one. They escape into the dark woods and hide from the killer for hours.
In the morning, Harry decides to go back to Sven’s house and locate the car keys, as he’s now convinced the sicko has hidden their vehicle somewhere.
The game of cat-and-mouse commences as Harry searches the place while Rose keeps watch via binoculars on the other shore. There’s no reason to reveal the ending here, because you’ve probably already figured it out.
The Cabin is plagued by so many problems that it becomes downright hilarious at times. First of all, the cinematography by Charles Doan and the editing by Robert Sarkanen are incredibly busy and disjointed.
Doan loves his drone, as demonstrated by a plethora of aerial footage. Driving scene? Shoot it from above! And why shoot a walking sequence at ground level when it can be done from far up in the air? Meanwhile, Sarkanen throws every editorial technique in the book into the film. There are superimpostions, montages, solarizations — sometimes all happening at once. The score by Matt Donner is rich and orchestral, which is an odd choice since this is essentially an intimate, three-character chase movie.
As mentioned earlier, the characters’ motivations are almost completely obscure. While Harry and Rose fight like cats and dogs, Sven does what he does. The most we can figure out is that he’s the village psycho whose job is to kill any visitors who cross his path. Maybe he gets paid by the city. And since none of these characters are the least bit likeable, it renders the climactic chase scene rather toothless.
From a production standpoint, the individual contributions are fine, but they simply don’t coalesce into a coherent whole. The trouble starts with Kammerland’s screenplay, which manages to be simultaneously clichéd and incomprehensible. Maybe next time they can take what they’ve learned from their first feature experience and come up with something more solid.
The Cabin is available on DVD and VOD Dec. 4 from High Octane Films.