Runtime: 1 HR, 35 MIN
Director: Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Brian White, Amy Acker, Bradley Whitford, and Richard Jenkins
Having reasonable expectations is important going into any film. That theory is especially important when seeing a horror film and it’s not an easy theory to put into practice. For every Alien or John Carpenter’s The Thing you have a dozen horror films that are on par with The Exoricst II: The Heretic. That’s just the nature of the beast; most horror movies don’t hold up well to much scrutiny. In short, good horror films are hard to come by and while The Cabin in the Woods isn’t an elite horror movie it succeeds where many others fail… its actually very entertaining.
Five college friends take a weekend retreat to a secluded cabin in the woods (did you notice how I worked the title in there?). They all pack into their RV, run into an ‘eccentric’ gas station owner, and arrive at their cozy cabin. What begins as a fun filled weekend full of alcohol, drugs, and sex takes a mysterious and terrible turn. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that everything is not what it appears to be.
Horror films have to walk a thin line with their audience especially in term of how much comedy is injected into the story. Think back to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street; Freddy was both funny and rather terrifying but as the series went on the puns got so silly that eventually he wasn’t as effective as a villain. Elm Street doesn’t share much in common with The Cabin in the Woods and takes a unique approach to horror-comedy. Not only is it sufficiently scary but it’s a wonderful satire of our culture’s obsession with voyeurism and the macabre.
The filmmakers weren’t afraid to address some of the more banal aspects of horror films in their script by either wholeheartedly embracing their clichés or by going completely against the norm. For instance, it’s filled with stereotypical horror characters; the jock, the slut, the nice guy, the stoner, and of course the virgin but they’re handled in a unique way that sets it apart. In a lot of ways it’s like they consulted the “Horror Rules” from Scream and said, “We’ll absolutely do this, this and this but lets go in the completely opposite direction here, here, and here.” It was a nice contrast and kept me guessing how they would handle each successive situation.
Shot in 2009, Cabin in the Woods was filmed before Chris Hemsworth played Captain Kirk’s father in Star Trek and was well before he was being considered for the title character in Thor. He’s the bankable star of the film which works out well for the studio since he’s reprising his role of Thor in The Avengers only three weeks from the release of this film (coincidence?). The remaining cast of cabin bound coeds aren’t as well known but still give good performances in spite of the fact that their mostly one-dimensional caricatures. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are brilliant; they are undoubtedly the film’s greatest commodity in terms of acting and connecting with the audience because in essence they’re “us.” Not only do they steal the show but they also give a certain amount of credibility to the film that it would have otherwise lacked.
The release date has been pushed back several times since its original release date of February 5, 2010. A twenty-six month gap between the original proposed released date and the actual release date isn’t usually a positive sign for an upcoming release but it had more to do with the restructuring at MGM and a scrapped 3D conversion. Marketing might have also played a role since this isn’t your typical slasher film; I can personally attest to thinking the film would be junk based on my first viewing of the trailer.
I am not a Joss Whedon fan by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve enjoyed a few films that he’s been involved in (Toy Story) but by in large I avoid his projects. He co-wrote The Cabin in the Woods with his frequent collaborator Drew Goddard who also directed the film. Underneath its asinine plot lies a smartly written film with a subtlety delivered message. Yet the script never forgets what the audience came to see and in the end dives head first into one of the most absurdly fun third acts you’ll likely see all year. Am I a Whedon convert? No, but I’m less apprehensive about Whedon writing and directing The Avengers because this is a much smarter film than it appears to be based on its advertising.
The Cabin in the Woods is bizarre, very silly, semi-poignant, smartly written, and a completely absorbing film that caught me completely by surprise. With all the complaints we hear about Hollywood being out of original ideas it’s a breath of fresh air when a film like this comes along and unexpectedly takes your breath away. While not a perfect film The Cabin in the Woods is getting a very enthusiastic recommendation from me… don’t miss it.