The Cabin in the Woods

The rule for reviewing The Cabin in the Woods appears to be that you do not talk about The Cabin in the Woods. A series of long-lead press and festival screenings gave birth to a full-bore internet campaign to protect the film’s secrets, encourage avoidance of its marketing campaign, and heap shame on anyone who would dare leak spoilers. The irony is that while I’m always a proponent of knowing as little as possible in advance, The Cabin in the Woods is actually fairly hard to spoil – it doesn’t rely on shocking plot twists, and the contours of what’s really going on are clear from the beginning. And it’s hard to say much of substance about the film without touching on what it’s about. But the rules are clear. We’ll plod on in darkness.

One harmless thing to know is that the film was written by Joss Whedon – he of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly/Serenity, and the forthcoming (allegedly terrific) Avengers film – and co-written and directed by long-time Whedon collaborator Drew Goddard. And his presence is felt from the get-go. Whedon has a distinctively snarky, smart-alecky writing style that has earned him legions of fans, and it is certainly on display here: the dialogue is full of knowing, sarcastic asides, and an aggressive pop culture awareness that recalls Scream. I am generally somewhat allergic to this – Whedon has always seemed to work a little too hard to show that he’s smarter than his own stories. But it’s hard to argue with his approach when the movie is itself one big pop culture riff.

The genius of the film is how well that riff is constructed. Scream was a parody that worked pretty well as an example of what it was parodying. The Cabin in the Woods toes the line between parody and deconstruction, but it transcends its subject matter rather than just subverting or co-opting it. While poking fun at the horror genre, it becomes something else and something more.

The starting point is the enduring genre cliché: a bunch of teenagers retreat to a cabin in the woods to party, and are promptly picked off one-by-one by zombies/hicks/slashers/vampires/mutants. Except this time, there’s more to the story than just some kids being hunted by monsters. Because the cabin – and everyone and everything in it – is a front for something significantly more sinister.

The film tips us off to that fact in the opening scenes. It’s the precise nature of who or what is behind the events in the cabin that the film has so much fun slowly revealing. The answer is deliriously clever, and attempts to say something profound (and vaguely Michael Haneke-ish) about the nature and enduring power of the horror genre. It also leads to one of the most insanely entertaining horror climaxes in years.

There are some problems. The Cabin in the Woods dispenses information a bit inelegantly; there’s an extended sequence, just before all hell breaks loose, where the film essentially delivers the same revelations for a second time. The ending, though gutsy and inspired in conception, is utterly botched in the execution; what should have been an awesome stinger has all the impact of an “ACME” bomb exploding in a Looney Tunes short. And the film’s essentially Whedon-y nature inherently means your mileage may vary. But the hype is mostly justified. The Cabin in the Woods is surprising, kind of brilliant, and loads of fun.

-- Eugene Novikov

3 Comments

  1. Navid says:

    Agree completely with this review. I found the film to be delightfully sharp and entertaining. My main fault lied also with the ending, which was delivered poorly, as well as some over-explaining towards the end. Marty the stoner also could’ve been employed much less. Overall, however, the film was creative, bold, and riveting. I’d see it again.

  2. Simon says:

    I thought it was actually pretty lazy.

    For example (spoiler)

    This was written as if it were a plot point – when they discover they chose which nasty went after them. So what? Why does it matter they chose and what relevance does it have to the plot? I couldn’t find any but maybe I missed it.

  3. Pedro el español says:

    It was a fresh horror movie, not scary at all, but lots of fun. The japanese kids scenes were the funniest. On the other hand, this looks like the cast for a scooby doo movie (funny comment intended).

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