This cabin in the woods demonic horror movie is oddly tricksy in its narrative, which makes for some interesting complications but perhaps diminishes the suspense – we keep cutting away from potentially disturbing or creepy situations to a true crime reconstruction of what’s going on which gets the whole story laughably wrong.
A 1961-set prologue involves the stereotypical necking couple being menaced by some genuinely ghastly-looking witches (heads wrapped in rotting bandages but nasty grins showing) and the girl going through one of those XTRO-Humanoids From the Deep style gruesome sped-up pregnancies and messy births of a monster messiah. Then, in the approximate present day, the Pollack family – Mom Casey (Brea Grant), Dad James (AJ Bowen), moody son Jason (Joshua Huffman), bright daughter Jessica (Sophie Delah), and perky friend of the family Becky (Elise Luthman) – are driving to a spiritual healing retreat cabin owned by Mika Shand (Joy Osmanski). The place is over a huge deposit of supposedly healing minerals — James has early-stage cancer and is going along with a far-fetched plan to get better by non-conventional medicine (an underdeveloped plotline Bowen plays quite affectingly, until it’s just dropped). Interruptions from the TV show, hosted by Jack Sterling (Daniel Roebuck), establish that Casey is now known as ‘Axe Mom’ and presumed responsible for the deaths of most (but not all) of the characters we’ve met. Interviews with an angry cop (Sky Soleil), a smarmy therapist (Dianna Miranda) and Becky’s grandmother (Kay D’Arcy) and clumsy reconstructions play out a massacre story … but back in the main film, the family find Leslie Bison (Barbara Crampton) – the only character here who could possibly have been born in 1961 – lying faux-unconscious in the woods. They wake her up and try to get help, but she is disorientingly odd and inappropriate around her saviours – and we’ve already seen a commercial of her running for governor on a a ticket of opposing ‘the war against values’ which pegs her as a wrong ‘un.
Crampton’s recent renaissance as a genre star continues and her mercurial turn here pretty much takes over the film, except for a late-in-the-day showing from D’Arcy as the sweet granny turns out to have a bigger part to play than her introductory scenes suggested. Director Brad Baruh, who co-wrote with Irving Walker, produced John Dies at the End and has mostly worked on behind-the-scenes featurettes. Here, he corrals a lot of good ideas (and a few bad ones), but seems too impatient to establish a tone, swerving all over the place between the slow-burn, insinuations-of-evil, uncomfortable-behaviour of The House of the Devil and the gore-drenched, parasite-driven zombie attacks, tossed-off one-liners of Night of the Creeps, with detours into post-modern jokiness for the fake news segments. It has a jumble of invented mythology to do with those weird iron deposits – a power source with a stack of TV sets attached – and grabs for some political angles which might make this a muddied State of the Union address. It’s all a bit of a grab-bag, but even if it seems like a cut-up of four or five different films it’s diverting – and those witches really are wonderfully horrid.