College friends Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchinson) and friend Holden (Jesse Williams) along with Dana (Kristen Connolly) and her brother Marty (Fran Kranz) head up to a remote cabin in the woods for a fun filled weekend of laughter and hopefully some good ole fashioned pre-marital sex. The cabin however has other plans for them and as this group of wayward souls begin to unravel the mysteries of the enigmatic cabin they unwittingly unleash the forces of evil upon themselves which will stop at nothing to see them dead.
Every so often a film comes along that redefines a genre. Some of the greatest films to come along and redefine the horror genre in particular include such classics as The Exorcist, Halloween (1978), Dawn of the Dead (1978), The Thing (1982), Evil Dead 2, Scream and more recently Shaun of the Dead. Those aren’t the only examples but those are the more pivotal ones in regards to changing the way horror in film was done. That is some hard company to keep but first time director Drew Goddard’s new horror/comedy “The Cabin in the Woods” joins those elite ranks as one of the freshest, most inventive and original takes on the horror genre to come along in almost a decade which will most likely go down as one of greatest achievements in this overcrowded genre of cookie cutter slasher films of all time.
Right off the bat the audience is thrown for a loop with an opening scene that is so jarring compared to the viewer’s expectations for a movie of this type that they will most likely question whether or not they are watching the right movie. It isn’t until that glorious title card appears ALL OVER the screen and that strange music queue hits when you realize this is not only the correct movie but that you are also in store for something very different than the average slasher flick. This is going to be a movie experience like no other.
Going into this with a blank slate is truly the best way to experience its wealth of goodies that Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon have prepared for you. So as a warning to everyone and anyone who is even the slightest bit interested, do not read the rest of this review, don’t even watch the trailer which shows way too much, just go in cold and see it NOW. So from this point forward consider yourself warned. While the film won’t be spoiled, there are going to be certain aspects of the film covered that would be better left a mystery until you see it for yourself. So here we go…last chance…you ready? Alright, you asked for it.
You know those movies, even the ones you like, that are great but always leave you wishing they had gone just a bit further and really took the gloves off? Usually this comes in the form of a hint or a tease towards something grander, something that would up the stakes beyond what the film had provided up to a certain point. “The Cabin in the Woods” delivers on everything its ingenious premise promises its audience and then takes it that extra mile and then some. It’s like the deceptively inane tagline suggests, you may think you know this story, but you don’t. There are things hinted towards throughout the course of the movie that…well, not to put too fine a point on it, will have you wishing those things would actually come true…that you would actually get to see those things, and when they do eventually manifest themselves, it is glorious.
Here is probably the craziest thing the film doesn’t do, it never tries to hide its “twist” from you. That’s right, it shows you its hand BEFORE we even meet our victims. To put that in better context, it is essentially the same as knowing Bruce Willis was dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense from the outset which is the complete opposite of what made that film so great. Not everyone is a fan of having something kept from them and revealed only during the final moments of a movie but for many that mystery is often times the driving force behind the entire experience. That piece of the unknown is what fuels our desire to move forward in the story and figure stuff out…and that is missing from this movie…and it works…AND THAT’S JUST CRAZY!
To be fair though there is still a bit of a secret that is revealed towards the end but it isn’t nearly as interesting as what takes up the bulk of the film which is this oddly clever mash up of your standard horror flick and a reality television show scenario. The brilliance of how this film works and unfolds is that it doesn’t hide that fact from us, that we know these kids are being manipulated into participating in this “event” is shown to us up front to put our brains to work in a whole different way. Instead of trying to figure out what is out to get them and why they are being hunted we are forced to think bigger…as in why ANY of this is happening. Why are there these working class stiffs who are cooped up in a industrial looking facility trying to kill these kids in a cabin in the middle of nowhere? Why do these kids need to be killed? Why these kids in particular? Who is running all this?
There was a quote from Whedon in an article from Totalfilm.com where he states his disdain towards current horror conventions and how much he hates the “stupid teenager syndrome” that pervades almost every film in the genre. His answer (and cure) for this very tired formula is one of the many intelligent stabs the film takes at those other films which is to embrace such a ridiculous notion as how these young adults could be so susceptible to their own curiosity as to put themselves in harms way but not allow the audience to hate them for their stupidity. These kids are victims, not just to the terrors that hunt them but also to those guys in their suits and ties running the show from the safety of their control room.
Despite copious amounts of blood and gore, this isn’t meant to be a hide-your-head sort of horror experience, it is meant to be a fun ride. One of the approaches taken is with the operators/puppeteers in the control center. The film treats them as though this is just another day job for them, something to pay the bills. A perfect example of this and one of the funniest gags in the movie is when everyone starts placing bets on how these kids will die, it is played totally straight like they are just doing a regular betting pool that would be commonplace at any office job…but here it takes on a whole new meaning as being sort of depraved but also hilarious in their sheer enthusiasm to see these kids ripped apart. The guy in charge played by the always great Richard Jenkins also has one of the single greatest outbursts in the entire film when something doesn’t go as planned elsewhere which was just spot on perfect in delivery and for conveying what is at stake.
The other side of the comedy coin is Marty. Fran Kranz is not somebody I am overly familiar with but his performance here as the stoner Marty is just a constant scene stealer. Every movie like this has its fool, the joker, the guy who makes witty remarks and comments on anything and everything strange. The best example of this character type would be Randy from the “Scream” films, an overly self-aware person who is informed on the happenings and thus keeps the audience informed as well. Marty isn’t Randy though, he isn’t a self-aware guy, he doesn’t realize that he is in a horror movie. What he realizes is that nothing is as it seems, that he and his friends are in the middle of some sort of conspiracy.
The neat twist on this is that he is the only one who senses that something is off which leads to some of the best reactions to stupidity in a horror film ever conceived. When a cellar door blasts open and the reasoning for it is explained away by a gust of wind Marty exclaims, “How does that make any sort of sense exactly?”. His reactions to everything is just priceless, the disembodied voices or the sudden need to split up are just as baffling to him as it is to us which leads to a great number of fantastic remarks from him and just wait until you see his mighty thermus…amazing.
Then you have that ending. Nothing can prepare you for the tour de force of carnage that gets unleashed during the films final 20 minutes. This movie makes a lot of promises to the audience early on with certain things that are revealed about the nature of this annual “event” and it is quite honestly amazing how it comes through on all of them. While the entire film is built from the ground up to appeal to horror fans of all sorts, it is those final moments that becomes what is essentially a horror fans wet dream come true and something that will go down in the annals of horror film history as one of the single greatest moments in a horror film of all time.
“The Cabin in the Woods” is without question a modern day horror classic. It has all the components needed to make a good horror story and redefines what we have come to expect from our horror movies. It’s smart without ever being so smart that it becomes a parody of itself. It’s clever with how it creates stupid characters that we actually forgive for being stupid. It’s inventive with how it takes all the established hallmarks of the horror genre and flips them but still stays true to them. Then as a final middle finger to the genre’s need to sequelize everything, the film ends in as a matter of fact way as possible to ensure nobody will ever cover this ground again…brilliant!
This truly is one of those rare films that gets everything right and was one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences this reviewer has had in years that was topped off by an ending that will have every horror geek standing up and cheering for its sheer insanity. If you are a horror film fan then this one is a no-brainer but even if you are more of a casual fan then this still comes with the highest recommendation possible, if you like horror films even just a little then do yourself a favor and check it out, it may just surprise you. This film belongs in any self respecting horror fans collection, don’t just see it immediately, purchase it immediately.