Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Science Fiction
Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Amy Acker
Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Directed by Drew Goddard (feature film debut, writer of Cloverfield, writer/producer on Alias, Lost)
Stuck somewhere between the tone of Halloween and Scream, The Cabin in the Woods defies all expectations and categorical description. Yes, it is a horror film, but it's also not at all what you think. It's the sort of film that would be ruined by a detailed plot description. To explain what happens in the film as "twists and turns" would be to sell it short. Rarely do I ask for a leap of faith from my readers, but in this case I urge you: If you are a fan or even a casual passer-by of horror or science fiction, run, don't walk - to go see The Cabin in the Woods. I just can't necessarily reveal why without spoiling all the fun.
Yes, a group of archetypal teens go for a weekend in the woods to stay at a cabin, which is a deliberately tired scenario. You've got the virginal heroine (Connolly), the handsome jock (a youthful looking Chris Hemsworth, who most recently starred in Thor), the brainy nice guy (Williams), the slutty cheerleader (Hutchison), and the pot-headed slacker (Fran Kranz, who channels Shaggy from Scooby-Do for his role). The set-up is as old and predictable as one could imagine. And that is partially the point.
As this cliched premise develops, our interest is stirred when we also get flashes of two quick-talking scientist-types, played with gusto by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. They have a very unique job that adds an entire sci-fi spin to the tale of our cabin-dwellers.
In fact, from a giant control room, we see that the cabin, the woods, and the entire surrounding area is being videotaped and monitored. It also seems to be protected by some invisible force-field wall. Why? I couldn't possibly give that away. Let's just say that these two are responsible for making sure that the group of teens are killed off properly, using any means necessary, and from their control room they can directly influence the results.
People in the lab in fact, place bets on who will die first, and which monster will make the kill. For much of the film, we don't know what the heck is going on, but we see that this televised ritual is happening in different places all over the world (damn the Japanese, who seem to be the best at whatever it is that is happening). The same stereotypical people are set forth in a controlled environment, and like lab rats, their every move and decision is studied.
The Cabin in the Woods was actually made back in 2009 and fell into purgatory when MGM went through Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. First time director Drew Goddard had worked with the other co-writer, Joss Whedon, on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel TV series, which have gained a massive cult following over the years. Joss Whedon, like J.J. Abrams, is known to be one of the hottest, most cutting-edge writer/producers in the current sci-fi realm. So imagine what these two do with the horror genre.
There are scares, and nearly every cliche in the horror-movie book appears in the film at some point. But The Cabin in the Woods comes across less as a thriller and more of a giant "F you" to the horror genre. It somehow also effectively functions as a love letter. With the two scientists meddling in the business of the cabin, you almost imagine that this is Goddard's critique of modern horror-movie makers, who insist on interjecting implausible cliches in order to make the victims move from Point A to Point B. In many horror films for example, the party splits up. Why would they possibly do that? Surely, the two puppet-masters could also be seen as Goddard and Whedon themselves, two blokes just having fun with things, peppering in as much ridiculousness as they can muster.
The result is a horrific and hilariously absurd romp that thumbs its nose at the tired genre of horror. It doesn't make complete sense, nor is it meant to. But that's not to say that it is meaningless. They know just as well as we do, that plot and purposes are not what draws people into a scary movie.
It should be compared to Scream, which also made us laugh at slasher movie conventions. But Scream was more of a knowing wink, a film that was too-cool-for-the-room. The Cabin in the Woods keeps its tongue firmly planted in cheek, but feels different tonally from Scream. It never appears to be a smart film, but instead goes the opposite way...embracing the idiotic nature of the horror genre and squeezing until its head pops off.
The Cabin in the Woods is a very fun film, and one of the most original films in recent memory. It zigs and zags like a roller coaster in the dark, and each sudden dip makes it worth the price of admission. So you'll just have to trust me on this: It is a ride well worth taking.
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