Despite languishing in obscurity for three years (the film was completed back in 2009) Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard collaborative effort is a stunning success. Co-written by the pair, and directed by Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods pokes fun at horror movie convention before providing one of the most memorable final acts you’ll see in theaters this year.
The perspective of the film is broken into two groups. On one hand we have a quintet of college kids (played by Hollywood actors in their late 20’s and early 30’s: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Fran Kranz) out for some weekend fun in the mountains. On the other hand we have a group of scientists (Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker) preparing for the most important night of the year.
Without giving two much away, the two stories are linked. Those in the secret compound are controlling the horrors that will unfold on the unsuspecting group of students whose every choice will lead to how they will meet their end.
The more we learn about the pair of middle-aged computer jockeys, their co-workers, and the ritualized nature of their current actions, the more we begin to understand what’s at stake not only for those trapped in the cabin, but for those in the facility as well.
Cabin in the Woods is never exactly what you’d expect. Although there’s plenty of blood it’s never gore for gore’s sake. Although a group gets trapped in a room where we know bad things will happen to them it’s not torture porn. And although there are some shocking moments, it’s not really scary. Yet, somehow, it works.
Goddard’s last collaboration with Whedon led to my favorite story arc of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Season Eight. It’s obvious the pair work well together. Their attempt to move the horror genre away from torture porn by deconstructing it in front of our eyes gives us far more than we were expecting. Not only do we get a nice mix of horror, action, and humor, but we even get a couple of genuine dramatic sequences with genuine weight to them you wouldn’t expect to find in a slasher flick.
The film isn’t without flaws. The characters are still relatively simple horror movie fodder, although the added twist of the scientists tweaking each of the characters to make them fit into specific prototypes is a very nice touch. And Kranz, one of several actors used by Whedon in previous projects, in particular feels too old for the role his cast in – that of a stoner college kid.
The first two-thirds of the film are clever and amusing while having fun poking the various tropes of horror films. It’s in the final third, however, that the film goes for broke and gives us everything we want (and then some). It’s a little maddening that I can’t go into detail in describing why it works so well without giving away far too much of the story, but, trust me, you’ll know exactly what moment I’m talking about when the film ramps up into an insane final act that simply can’t be missed.
Although not a big fan of the genre, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and it seems I’m not alone. It seems both writers have been pleasantly surprised at the positive response from those who don’t consider themselves regular fans of the genre. That said, it’s still very much a horror film. We get a variety of gruesome deaths and buckets of blood, but we also get some terrific writing and a keen understanding of the genres strengths and weaknesses which produces one of the year’s most memorable films to date.