The horror genre is brilliantly torn limb from limb when Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon visit The Cabin In The Woods.
WARNING: If you plan on seeing the film, I strongly urge you to
and come back here once you’ve made it to the end credits. While I will make every effort not to reveal anything more than what is hinted at in the official trailer, the film is best seen when going into it blind. If you continue to read on, just remember that you made this choice and will have to suffer the consequences.
A group of five friends are heading out of town on a vacation. There’s sweet, virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly); athletic alpha male Curt (a pre-Asgardian Chris Hemsworth); Curt’s newly blonde, kind-of-slutty girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson); smart and vaguely-ethnic Holden (Jesse Williams); and the philosophical and paranoid stoner Marty (Fran Kranz). Their destination: a cabin owned by Curt’s cousin, nestled in the middle of a remote, GPS-free forest. It doesn’t take long for things to take a turn for the worse, as the quintet is soon menaced by sadistic things carrying large rusty, sharp objects. Our intrepid band of archetypes soon realize that they are being manipulated by outside forces and that they may only be pawns in some shadowy conspiracy…which of course, they will have to get to the bottom of.
Seriously, turn around now if you don’t want anything spoiled.
If some of this sounds like a Joss Whedon adventure, it should. Whedon co-wrote the script with director Drew Goddard, who had previously worked on Whedon’s shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel (as well as Cloverfield, but we all have our faults). The film was completed in 2009 but due to multiple stumbling blocks—like an aborted and thankfully unsuccessful attempt to make the film 3D, as well as MGM’s bankruptcy—it wasn’t released until now. It’s an oddly fitting road for the film. The Cabin In The Woods is a brutal and beautiful deconstruction of the horror movie, right down to its marketing and production history.
This kind of film resides in the exact center of Whedon’s comfort zone, and Goddard proves to be a highly competent (if not outright great) director who’s clearly simpatico with Whedon’s sensibilities. Granted, Goddard set the bar for himself pretty high. This is a very high-concept, often complex piece of work that even the best director would have trouble arranging, let alone a first-timer, but Goddard is up for the challenge. Whedon’s input certainly helps, and his presence looms large in many scenes. In fact, the film could fit very easily into the Buffyverse with little modification, even without supporting turns by several Whedon ringers.
Through the looking glass and what Joss Whedon found there.
The film is well-cast in every sense of the word. Nobody feels out of place or awkward. It helps that the protagonists are played by relatively unknown actors. Only Hemsworth has much box office exposure, but this was filmed way before he took hold of Thor’s hammer and a killer set of pecs. All five of them, however, play their parts perfectly. These are all characters we’ve seen dozens of times before. We know what they’re going to do before they do with few exceptions (like a scene involving a stuffed wolf). The characters still have life, though, thanks to a witty, snappy script and some game performances, especially Kranz’ comic relief burn-out and Connolly’s plucky, winsome heroine. The cast’s chemistry and Goddard/Whedon’s words make you believe that these five wildly different people could actually be friends and are not just thrown together for plot convenience.
There’s a reason the five kids act the way they do, both within the film and without. As they spend more time in the cabin, they seem to settle into their roles more and more, especially Curt and Jules. It’s as if they realize that the audience is expecting them to do things a certain way and don’t want to let us down. Or it could be the pheromones and subliminal messages pumped through the walls of the cabin by the puppeteers, which cause Curt and Jules to engage in the time-honored tradition of coitus interruptus ex zombius redneckus. It’s nudity at its most gratuitous and its most necessary at the same time, resolved with violence that’s just as equally gratuitous and necessary.
Marching in the Victim Pride Parade.
Cabin deconstructs the horror genre in a way that makes it almost impossible to discuss without giving essential plot points away or spoiling a number of big reveals. Even saying that could itself be interpreted as a spoiler in this case. If the Scream films were a post-modern commentary on the stale conventions of the horror genre, Cabin is a full-fledged college thesis that makes the Scream series look like a middle school play. It does the remarkable, seemingly impossible task of upending every single horror film you’ve ever seen or heard about ever. Seriously. EVER. And not just American entries: some of the best scenes in the film are riffs on horror films from other countries.
Once the deliriously off-the-rails third act appears, the entire film preceding it is called into question. While the characters are being manipulated by outside the forces, it’s at this point that the audience realizes that we, too, are being manipulated by Whedon and Goddard, that all of our expectations and assumptions about the film have suddenly gone out the window. Are those really plot holes there or do we just think they are? Die-hard Whedon fans might be able to pull the threads together earlier than others, but the scope and extent of the film’s metatextual gaze is truly staggering, down to the generic title that could double as an IMDB plot keyword and the Nine Inch Nails song over the credits. Wes Craven only dreams that he could cut to the heart of horror this efficiently.
Come on in. The meta’s fine.
Cabin is a film that is both cerebral and visceral, both humorous and frightening, both by-the-numbers and completely unexpected and all of this at the same time. It’s a shockingly entertaining and astonishingly clever film that deserves to be lauded as a modern horror classic. It’s not as smug as the Scream films or as specific as Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil. It’s something altogether bigger and bolder, a horror film that will make you keep the light on so you can think about the twisting turns of the story…and to avoid whatever’s lurking in the shadows.
Rating: 9 out of 10 / A
JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and needs a cigarette.