Note: For those of you that haven’t seen The Cabin in the Woods, it’s kinda hard to talk about it without delving into spoilers. I won’t be giving away any of the big stuff, but it’s just a forewarning in case any of you wanna go into the film completely fresh.
College students Dana Polk (Kristen Connolly), Curt Vaughan (Chris Hemsworth), his girlfriend Jules Louden (Anna Hutchison), Holden McCrea (Jesse Williams) and token stoner Marty Mikalski (Fran Kranz) are spending the weekend at a deserted cabin in the forest.
Well, this looks tiresomely familiar.
While partying through the night, the group stumble upon the cabin’s cellar where they find many unusual objects, one of which is the diary of Patience Buckner, a former cabin resident who was abused by her cruel, sadistic family. Little do they know that their curiosity with these strange items has brought upon them an evil they’ll regret ever unleashing.
I never understood and still don’t get the deification of Joss Whedon (his stab at Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing showed just how fallible he could be). Granted, his box office flop Serenity’s unjustly under-appreciated and even though The Avengers is overrated when it comes to claims of it being the greatest comic book film ever, it’s still great fun. Still, we’re only talking about two movies he’s directed, but all of a sudden, Marvel fans hail him as the second coming of Steven Spielberg as they geek out over him reportedly being flown in to write one scene for Thor as if it’s the end of the world without him.
That said, Whedon’s not to blame for the fan hype surrounding him, and he’s clearly a talented filmmaker considering Serenity and The Avengers aren’t exactly cakewalks to direct. In between those two films is The Cabin in the Woods, a smart and ambitious take on the slasher genre.
Written over a three-day weekend by Whedon and director Drew Goddard (the writer of Cloverfield), it seems like an oxymoron, at first glance, to pair together the words “ambitious” and “slasher”. My initial impression when I first saw the trailer was that this looked like just another ho-hum horror flick; however, word of mouth eventually convinced me to check this out, and I was quite surprised by how good it ended up being.
This is not by any means a straightforward slasher movie, but instead a bloody fun, sharply clever satire of both the slasher genre and the torture porn (also known as “gorno”) craze. The love Goddard and Whedon have for horror films is obviously shown, and what they do here is take everything that’s been beaten to death in this genre – the characters, the cliches, even the over-simplified title – turn it all upside down and pick it apart piece by piece. The two make that perfectly clear by kicking the film off with Sitterson and Hadley, two tech guys pulling the strings of what’s happening to these five ill-fated college kids, who are each given a funny twist on the tropes they’re representing. The jock’s on an academic scholarship, the scholar’s an athlete, the stoner’s often the voice of reason, the virgin’s in a relationship with her professor, and the whore is – uh…
Okay, well she’s still a whore.
There’s more to the story than what’s mentioned here, but as I said, I’m not gonna give everything away. Just take my word for it that the sendups presented are spot-on.
Although Chris Hemsworth’s Thor was released a year before this film’s release, at the time this was made in 2009 (delay after delay held this film’s release back until 2012), none of the primary cast members were well known here in America, but they all do a fine job at depicting the various tropes regarding their characters without over-winking at the audience or practically displaying the genre jokes and references on a big, bright, prominent neon sign. Kristen Connolly, in particular, makes for a very likeable and empathetic lead as the “virgin good girl”, and for the first time that I’ve seen, Fran Kranz’s Marty makes great use of a bong by turning it into a lethal weapon.
Adding much more to the film than you’d expect two supporting characters to do are the great character actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as the masterminds behind the gang’s horrifying predicament. Even in a bad film, Jenkins has always been the type of actor with a presence that elevates the film whenever he appears onscreen, and the comic timing he shares with Whitford is terrific.
Thanks to Drew Goddard’s spot-on direction; his and Joss Whedon’s witty, deconstructive writing; and the combination of a young, likeable cast and proven veteran talents, The Cabin in the Woods pulls off the tricky balancing act of working as a spooky horror flick and sharp satire. Regardless of whether or not you’re the best of the best of all horror film know-it-alls, or even just a horror fan period, this is able to thrill and entertain viewers of all kinds.