The Cabin in the Woods Review
Sam's Rating: 8/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8.3/10
(3 reviews total)
Between trailers that give away the whole plot, the growing dearth of original stories and the stream-of-conscience babbling of social media, it’s hard for a movie to surprise you anymore. So it is with great excitement that I ask you to limit whatever you hear about The Cabin in the Woods
. Watch the trailer, read spoiler-free reviews (such as this one) and plug your ears as soon as anyone starts talking about it in detail. Do that and you’re in for one of the most surprising, entertaining and just plain fun movie experiences to come along in years.
You might not assume that given the succinctness of the title, which provides about as much background info as you’ll need. The film follows five college kids who escape the city to spend a weekend at a remote, foliage-bound retreat. “It doesn’t even show up on the GPS,” says one, while stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) rolls joints in the back of their RV. Good girl Dana (Kristen Connolly) is among the vacationers, having been roped into the trip as an excuse to meet hunky new guy Holden (Jesse Williams). Isolated location? Check. Drugs? Check. Sex? Check. You know the drill.
And that’s the point. If you’re betting there’s a pit stop at a derelict gas station run by a backwoods yokel who warns the kids “don’t go up to that cabin,” congratulations, you’re part of the film’s target demographic of people overly tired of the horror genre. The “teens going on vacation to a secluded location only to fall prey to malevolent forces” playbook is on full, gleeful display here, featuring familiar character archetypes stuck in an ominous cabin that’s just begging for a coat of red paint.
What you might not expect are the little differences that build up as we head toward the inevitable killing spree. Despite their inherent disposability, the characters have a charm and likeability that’s unusual for your average slasher movie fodder. That jock Curt (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) knows his way around a sociology textbook, as well as a football field, is among the first of many, many, tweaks to the established canon.
It all starts to make sense once you know that the film was co-written and produced by Joss Whedon. The creator of cult-favorites Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly is celebrated for his ability to craft interesting characters through witty and relatable dialogue, something that has survived the big screen transition. That such a grounded voice is behind next month’s big-budget comic book extravaganza The Avengers would seem odd had he not already proven himself a master at repurposing genre conventions. You are probably familiar with his riff on superheroes in the web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard makes his directorial debut here (and also has a co-writing credit), and if these two films share a theme, it’s blowing stuff up. The difference is that The Cabin in the Woods is about mass destruction of ideas. The filmmakers have set out to exploit or destroy everything you’ve come to expect from scary movies, and they take to the task with style and verve. Although the influx of camera-winking and self-reference in the genre has given it some new life (Tucker and Dale vs. Evil comically spun the same subset of horror last year), Whedon and Goddard take it to such an extreme that the sly wink is more like a proudly flying middle finger.
You could argue that they’re more interested in giving cheeky commentary on established nail-biter tropes than in coming up with real scares of their own, and you’d be right. Fear takes a backseat here, but in its place is an infectious lunacy. If you’ve watched the trailer, you’ll know that there’s more to this cabin than initially appears, as glimpses of the condemned under surveillance hint at a conspiratorial element to the slaughter. It’s no matter to learn that criminally underrated comedic talents Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are among those keeping watch. Who they are and what they’re job is is just the tip of the iceberg.
Their story runs parallel to that of the beset teens, but early impressions of the voyeurs would have you think they’re living in a totally different world. Again, this is all intentional, as what starts as a simple story quickly spirals into territory of such grand, bizarre scope, that it makes the destruction of New York in Cloverfield look like small potatoes. There’s an actual mythology at play here, one that just barely keeps the story afloat, but also filters the entire genre through a new, wonderfully skewed lens. Nearly every conceivable take on horror gets a shout-out here, with clear references to The Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, even Lovecraft, to name a few. Some shots are so packed with Easter eggs and detail you’ll wish the theater had a pause button.
Although some technical quibbles arise from Goddard aping his inspirations a bit too closely (the lighting can be poor and the CGI deserved a budget befitting its ambition), those with any appreciation for gore, monsters or just a good scare, owe it to themselves to see this movie. From its charming beginnings to its balls-out insane third act (complete with an ingeniously twisted finale), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a film in recent memory that’s as inventive—or flat-out fun—as The Cabin in the Woods.
Simon thought: "If you are versed in horror lore, the genre's mounting clichés and the common archetypes of the would-be victims, you will have a much better time than just a casual observer of The Cabin in the Woods. That being said, “Cabin” is such a raucous horror treat – brimming with such energy – I believe it may possess the power to convert naysayers (or perhaps that’s just the wishful thinking of a nerd). Although it's not entirely scary and opts to poke and prod at one too many subgenres, it more than compensates for the fact with an abundance of unadulterated flair more guileless mirth than most pure-comedies. If your average horror parody manages to spin familiarity on its head, than The Cabin in the Woods, gags, blindfolds, bludgeons and disorients the genre like a sick game of Pin the Tale on the Donkey." Rating: 8.5/10
Steven thought: "The horror genre has seen satire before—heck, the entire genre is intself built upon a foundation of satire, so it should mean a great deal that The Cabin in the Woods flips the genre on its head like nothing before it. Fants of more traditional offerings will probably clamor for more scares, but the sci-fi elements and the slight alterations to the "cabin in the woods" movie fabric will win most of those people back over. Any good horror satire completely messes with your expectations because horror is the genre that banks on expectations like none other, but this is something special, a hilarious romp far, far away from convention that simply has to be witnessed." Rating: 8.5/10