The Cabin in the Woods
Comedy and horror share one thing in common; they both rely on defying expectations to catch us off guard in order to successfully execute their intent. The old adage “a joke is never as funny the second time around,” is accurate because of this. Likewise, for a horror movie to truly work, we can’t see the punchline coming. The best of them leave us guessing and wondering who might survive the onslaught until the closing moments. Unlike comedy however, horror movies don’t seem to try nearly as hard to reinvent the wheel and keep audiences surprised by what lies ahead. Because of this, we have been subjected to the same tired premises and cliched conventions over the years, none more then that of the cabin in the woods. We all know how its going to play out from the moment it begins. Five college kids (who have almost nothing in common but are somehow friends), venture deep into the woods to spend a long weekend drinking and fornicating in a decrepit cabin only to find themselves under attack from ghosts. Or zombies. Or psychotic rednecks. Or a supernaturally powerful masked madman. Or a cult. Or…you get the point. We all got the point twenty years ago. The laughably predictable plot has been repurposed and repackaged so many times it’s lost all practical effect. So have you seen The Cabin in the Woods before? Absolutely. And not at all.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS THOUGH I WILL SHARE NOTHING YOU COULDN’T FIGURE OUT BY WATCHING THE TRAILER
From the very beginning, everything matches up with the overused premise. Hunky football player Curt (Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame) and his pretty newly blonde girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison) coax their sweet and innocent friend Dana (Kristen Connolly) into joining them for a weekend in the woods. It’s Curt and Jules’ hope that a little booze and seclusion might help Dana find some romance with Curt’s sensitive friend Holden (Jesse Williams). Also joining the group is stoner-philosopher Marty (Franz Kranz) because you can’t make one of these movies without a stoner in the group, right?
The last stop on the way to the cabin is, of course, a rusted out gas station manned by a creepily cryptic redneck who seems delighted by the fate in store for these poor kids. But of course he is delighted, it’s his job to be. Literally. What we know and the kids don’t is that the cabin they are heading to is no ordinary cabin. Buried deep beneath the rotting structure is a vast laboratory. Sitting behind a bay of monitors and rows of switches and dials is Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Lin (Whedon alum Amy Acker), practically giddy at the terror they are about to unleash on the group of friends. Like the game makers of The Hunger Games, their job is to create a real-life horror movie, supplying the necessary whispers in the dark and bumps in the night needed to get the job done. While it may seem I’ve just spoiled the entire movie for you, believe me, I have not. What would be considered a grandiose twist in any other movie is just the tip of the iceberg here and delivered to you in the opening moments of the film.
And really, that is the brilliance of The Cabin in the Woods. The film isn’t here to act as a horror movie. Its not even meant to be a comedy. What it is really here to do is pray on our expectations at any given moment. Every twist and turn in the film’s plot is meant to lovingly deconstruct the genre, and it seems undeniably easy in the hands of Buffy the Vampire Slayer mastermind Joss Whedon and his protege-turned-cohort Drew Goddard. The pair, much like Hadley and Sitterson,take exquisite pleasure in breaking down all of the conventions that make horror movies so predictable and its hard not to enjoy it as much as they do. From moment to moment, they build up walls they only intend to tear down for our amusement. The movie races forward with a snarky confidence that lets its audience be both in on the joke and the butt of it. While they don’t shy away from providing the audience with plenty of gore, by the time the real bloodbath ensues (and it can only be described as a bloodbath), its become so insanely chaotic that the result is more absurd fun then disgusting mess. The pair are more interested in the psychology anyway and The Cabin in the Woods executes with such smart precision that even Matt, Brunden, Nick and myself stopped trying to guess what was coming and just went along for the ride.
Generally, when seeing movies, we all sit quietly, laser locked on the screen but The Cabin in the Woods provided us with the rare experience of elbowing each other giddily, loving every moment of it. The Cabin in the Woods is a fanboy’s dream come true, a big “in joke” constructed from the remains of everything from The Evil Dead to Ringu that cleverly plays with expectations and surprises us with every twist and turn. While I could shine on about the brilliance of the cast (Whitford, Jenkins and Kranz specifically shine), the cleverness of a bong that folds up into a coffee mug or the hilarity of a character named, and I’m not even joking here, Fornicus, Lord of Bondage and Pain, I won’t. The Cabin in the Woods is the kind of movie you need to see for yourself, ideally before someone lets the cat out of the bag or, more fittingly, the (FILL IN THE BLANK) out of the cellar.
What did you think, Admiral Adama?