Home > Reviews > Review: “The Cabin in the Woods”

Review: “The Cabin in the Woods”

Directed by: Drew Goddard
Produced by: Joss Whedon,
Written by: Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon
Cinematography by: Peter Deming
Music by: David Julyan
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker
Year: 2012

 

I don’t claim to be an expert on horror films. Last year, when I did my first Scary Movie Month, I ended up getting schooled by a group of Nightmare on Elm Street fans, who took me to task for not getting the point of the first film. Throughout that month, I struggled to gain a greater appreciation for the horror genre, particularly through the classic slasher films — Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Last House on the Left and its remake… Aside from just providing me with an opportunity to list all those films and link to my reviews, my point is that I’m not particularly fond of these types of films, aside from Halloween, which surprised me with its elegance, and the two Nightmare sequels I reviewed, Dream Warriors and New Nightmare, which ended up being more fun than I anticipated.

I do, however, like Scream and even its three sequels, which were fun, self-aware tributes to the slasher sub-genre while also being fairly well constructed horror thrillers in their own right, to varying degrees. But after this? It’s kind of hard to really think of that many subversive horror films that manage to capture that same sense of fun, creativity, and terror without reiterating everything that’s been said before. Lucky for me, then, that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard knew exactly how take that formula and turn it on its head, yet again, and with The Cabin in the Woods, they not only send up the horror genre in a loving manner, but also lament the lack of creativity that has pervaded the genre in the past few years and all the factors that led to the genre’s stagnation.

The set up is typical, with a bunch of young people gathering together to go party at some remote location far away from their privileged lives and the hustle and bustle of the picturesque town they live in. In this case, the remote location is the titular cabin in said woods, and the young people are Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison), Holden (Jesse Williams), and the perpetually stoned Marty (Fran Kranz), who is equipped with the obligatory wacky drug paraphernalia — a collapsible coffee mug bong. Though the setup may seem typical, unlike most kids in horror films, they don’t all necessarily fit into an easy stereotype, so it’s fairly hard to figure out who will be whacked first. Not to worry, however, as there’s an added layer to the story that will help us to sort this all out. (If you’re even the least bit worried about SPOILERS, be warned — they start from here on. I’ll let you know when they end…)

You see, there’s this whole underground organization (literally) who’s pushing all the buttons that determine what goes on around and inside these kids at the cabin. You see, the cabin and the grounds around the property are rigged with cameras, trick doors, pheromones, and other such fun stuff that the operatives use in manipulating the kids and their actions, and soon they start dividing into stereotypes as a result — especially Curt and Jules, who begin to become more overtly aggressive and sexual, becoming the jock and the slut, respectively. At first, only Marty begins to notice, while the others quickly dismiss his suspicions as THC-induced paranoia. After discovering a basement filled with odd memorabilia left behind by a creepy, abusive family, Dana and Holdenstart noticing oddities, as well. Next thing you know, the group is being attacked by the long-since-deceased zombies of the creepy family — though, judging by the betting going on within the organization, alternative creatures were definitely a possibility.

Remember when I said that The Cabin in the Woods is a loving send up of the horror genre? Well, the kind of love with which the film was created is definitely of the tough variety. You see, unlike Scream, which was an affectionate tribute to slasher film tropes, The Cabin in the Woods is more like a stern lecture from your mom when your grades go bad — only your mom is incredibly sarcastic in the way she’s going about it. The organization pulling all the strings at the cabin, you see, are doing so because there are these angry gods they must obey, and if their bloodlust is not sated by the deaths of these kids in a certain order, the world will end. If you’ve already watched the film (and if you’re entering this SPOILER ZONE without having seen it, prepare to be disappointed ’cause you’ve just ruined this for yourself, you idiot), then you probably caught on to the fact that the organization is a stand in for filmmakers, and the gods are us — the audience.

That’s fairly easy to pick up on, but it’s a pretty interesting dynamic because, in a sense, this kind of places even more blame on audiences for the degradation of horror than even the filmmakers, who are depicted as having no choice but to appease the gods by doing the same thing over and over again. The symbolism should feel kind of shameful when its real world context is taken into account: audiences, despite what they may say, don’t actually like change. And so, what we as the literal audience have is a film with yet more zombies attacking yet another group of stereotyped kids in yet another slasher film. “I am never gonna see a merman, ever,” one of the ops guys laments when the little-seen monster is yet again ignored in favor of the same old zombies.

Luckily, Cabin also shifts partway through and offers up some fun with the lecture, especially in the fan-friendly finale that Goddard and Whedon set up, letting us know that, even if they are disappointed in us, they still love us and the genre they’re working in, and they just want the best for us. I’m honestly not going to spoil anything further (oh yeah — END SPOILERS!), but if you’re in this for the fan service, it’s here in spades.

The performances along the way are also quite good, with Fran Kranz inevitably stealing the show as Marty, and the operatives also becoming surprisingly fresh and entertaining villains, even more so than the monsters. The script is laced with great lines, and the sense of humor is far more apparent and blatant than in even the Scream films — the references to Japanese horror is fantastic. You’re probably not going to be truly frightened at any time in this film, but you’re going to be having too good a time to care. The special effects aren’t of the highest state, even for 2009, when the film was originally filmed (MGM’s financial troubles kept it from actually releasing for a few years), but they’re adequate enough to sell the whole cheesy vibe — so much so, in fact, that I’m now wondering if that was the whole point. Hmm…

If you’re not into the horror genre, or even if you outright hate it, I can’t actually say that this will change your mind about them. But even if that’s the case, then you’re still very likely going to find a great deal to enjoy in The Cabin in the Woods. Horror haters will appreciate the film pointing out how ridiculous the genre can be, and fans will probably enjoy it even more for all its clever observations and subversive commentary. It’s not a flat out comedy, but it’s not a straight up horror film, either. It’s freaky without being nightmarish, and it’s fun without being hyper-meta, too. A film like this is hard to categorize, in other words, but that’s a good thing in this case, because that essentially means that the film and its makers have succeeded in doing what they set out to do: make something fun and original.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5

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