[The Cabin in the Woods
Written & Directed by Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, and Fran Kranz
MPAA: R - For Strong Bloody Horror Violence & Gore, Language, Drug Use, and Some Sexuality/Nudity]
Okay, here's the thing. I'm very adamant when it comes to refusing to spoil movies. But with all that being said, reviewing Cabin in the Woods is like the ultimate Catch-22. I can tell you that, as of now, it's my favorite movie of 2012, it's the most fun I've had in the theater in a long-ass time, and it's basically heaven for a guy who's seen countless horror movies such as myself. That being said, I can't tell you why I think all those things, because the thing that makes Cabin so very special is the element of surprise. There are movies with twists, that usually build up to one final twist ending that changes your perception of everything before such as The Sixth Sense and Citizen Kane; and then there are "twist movies" that slowly unravel twist after twist after twist consistently throughout the running time, such as Duncan Jones' modern sci-fi classic Moon. And I really can't think of a better movie that fits the latter category as well as Cabin in the Woods, which is so chock-full of surprises, critics all around the internet are practically castrating anyone that even dares to spoil the movie.
So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to do the same thing that I did in my Catfish review, in which I'll go and just give you guys my Final Verdict early, and then dig deeper into some mild spoilers. Don't worry, I won't reveal anything that wasn't revealed in the trailer, but I still think that it's best to go into this movie as clean as you possibly can. You've been warned.
Final Verdict: Cabin in the Woods is one of the most clever, and imaginative horror films I've ever seen. Somehow able to freely switch various tones from scary to funny to weird, Cabin reinvigorates the horror genre by making its own rules and then smashing them to pieces. The first "Can't-Miss" movie of the year.
Now, onto the real review...
You've all heard the story before, so you might as well all sing along: A group of teenagers decide to go to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. Each teenager represents a typical horror movie archetype: The jock (Chris Hemsworth, who you may recognize as Thor), the slut (Anna Hutchison), the smart guy (Jesse Williams, who also doubles as the black guy), the comic relief guy (Fran Kranz, who also doubles as the stoner), and of course the virgin (Kristen Connolly). As you may expect, the teens are picked off one by one due to supernatural forces and/or psychopaths in hockey masks.
This classic set-up is only part of Cabin in the Woods. But, as you may have seen from the trailer, there's something even more sinister at play. A group of strange men in a futuristic surveillance room (Two of which are played by the wonderful Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) has the entire cabin wired, and are secretly manipulating the events going on in and around the cabin. What is their purpose? Why are they doing this? And what do these teenagers have to do with it? All I can say is that whatever you expect it to be: Trust me, it's not what you expect it to be.
Part of me wants to call Cabin in the Woods an experiment, because it belongs under so many different genres and deals with so many meta-themes that it's hard to look at its audaciousness as something you nor the writers have ever experienced before. However, it should also be noted that first-time director Drew Goddard's direction is surprisingly assured. While juggling all these different, crazy ideas; hopping from genre-to-genre; and seamlessly switching from completely different tones; Goddard still knows exactly what he's doing on and off camera, and has a firm grasp on the boldness of his ideas and how they apply metaphorically to the nature of the storytelling process.
Because Cabin in the Woods isn't just a deconstruction of the tropes and cliches of the horror genre. Cabin in the Woods uses its wild framing device as commentary on the nature of cliches and formula storytelling themselves. Really. One critic described the film as "Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Truman Show" and he's absolutely correct. Much like how The Truman Show used its inventive premise to look deeper into the metaphysical, Cabin does so to introspect the weaknesses and ultimate importance of horror cinema.
Usually, when a movie is self-aware of its own cliches (such as the Scream films, which I'm also a fan of) it still ends up resorting to plenty of the cliches that its simultaneously lampooning. As much as I love the Scream films, what they really do is take horror cliches and turn them on their head. They rarely ever actually subvert them. Cabin in the Woods, on the other hand, is all about subversion, careening from genre to genre, tone to tone, etc. You can't pigeonhold the film into one genre; it is its own unique vision. There's literally nothing else like it.
You can tell that Joss Whedon (who co-wrote the film) and Drew Goddard had a blast with this screenplay. As soon as the film reaches a particular point and the third act begins, their imaginations are able to run absolutely wild with their craziest horror fantasies, as are the audience's imaginations. The film just oozes originality and creative energy that feels rare in a film. This may sound weird, but this movie pretty much reminds me of why I love movies in the first place: They're able to bring us things so fantastical and original that no other medium can execute as well. Everything just feels fresh and invigorating that it feels downright irresistible. It's pretty much some of the most entertaining and downright fun movies you'll see in the theater for some time.
Of course, this leads to one of the film's very few flaws: It's not very scary. There are some pretty scary moments sure, but it isn't like Black Swan or We Need To Talk About Kevin where you're sweating and squirming at the edge of your seat clenching the arm rests until its over. Cabin in the Woods has more in common with Evil Dead II than the original Evil Dead which was just straight horror. However, it's thankfully not like Army of Darkness where the comedy overshadows the scares. It still keeps a nice balance of suspense and laughs, even though you aren't pooing your pants in the process.
The other small weakness that can be leveled against it is the characters. Sure, they're meant to be two-dimensional archetype and part of the fun is seeing which ones get the axe first and which ones subvert the expectations of their pre-determined personality types. That being said, there isn't really much to them. The only one that you genuinely root for is, of course, the comic relief character of Marty. Not necessarily because he's well-developed, but because he not only has the funniest lines, but is played about as perfectly as his character requires him to be by actor Fran Kranz, who brings a magnetic charm to his pothead with a retractable bong.
But what made me love Cabin in the Woods as much as I did was the surprising amount of subtext in it that made it more thought-provoking than I could've ever expected. Much like I mentioned earlier, the film uses a premise that could've just been made for clever twists, but uses them to ask larger questions on the nature of storytelling and the toll of creativity. Questions such as which characters represented the audience and which ones represented the filmmakers left a surprising amount of food for thought. It's not a subtle metaphor (One of the characters in the film is literally called "The Director"), but it's one that works incredibly well.
All in all, Cabin in the Woods is just a great, great, great, great time at the movies. Again, I can't really describe more about what these big ideas are, and the insanity that ensues (Especially in the absolutely bonkers third act), so just trust me on this: Don't read anything else about this and see it immediately.
Final FINAL Verdict: Cabin in the Woods is a triumph of meta-awareness. Clever for all the right reasons, filled to the brim with smart commentary on the cliches of horror films and the nature of formula storytelling; it's also endlessly entertaining, filled with quotable one-liners, fun suspense, ridiculous mayhem, and wickedly smart dialogue. Fun, smart, clever, unpredictable, it fills out just about every quota you could possibly want in a modern genre classic.
That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more reviews and articles on this website as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what's going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.
See ya next time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to [REDACTED DUE TO SPOILERS].