It’s hard to know how much I should say about ‘The Cabin in the Woods,’ because it really is a movie that benefits from knowing as little as possible going in. Just the fact that it was written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (for whom it’s also his directorial debut) should tip you off to the fact that this is not your average horror flick. The (very few) negative reviews of the film have been using the word ‘fanboy’ like a slur, but I mean it as an absolute compliment when I say that this is a film made by fanboys for fanboys. It’s littered with references to classic horror films, and plays with genre conventions with reckless abandon, trying to be everything at once. In fact, you could even say that ‘Cabin in the Woods’ aims for nothing less than to be The Last Horror Movie.
That said, it’s fantastic. There are two major things going on in the film, but the only one I really feel comfortable talking about (lest ye be spoiled) is the one that you’re probably aware of: On it’s surface, ‘Cabin in the Woods’ follows a standard horror movie set-up, in which five friends and stock horror archetypes (the jock, the geek, the stoner, the virgin, and the blonde hot girl) venture off to a distant relative’s cabin for a weekend of drinkin’, smokin’, and bonin’. However, the horrors that they encounter when they get there are of such a unique variety, that I never really knew what was going to happen next. I kept thinking I did, and then the movie would change it up at the last second. In fact, that’s one of the films’ great strengths; It tells you from the very beginning that things are not what you expect, but then constantly escalates and gradually reveals deeper layers of the truth.
The actors all do a great job, with the standouts being Franz Kranz as the stoner burnout Marty, and Bradley Whitford as, well… I shouldn’t say. They’re both extremely funny, while also playing their scenes with an absolute truthfulness. Kranz brings some really original, new stuff to the role of the jokester clown in horror films, filling the expected role in the group dynamic, while also being the character is easily the most self-aware. He shoulders a lot of the weight of the film, and does it quite excellently. I cared about Marty almost instantly, and that only grew as the film went on. Bradley Whitford is also very funny, and acts as an audience surrogate in a totally different, surprising way.
Perhaps the best thing about this film is the way it juggles tone as it jumps between the two (fairly disparate) storylines. There is a real sense of dread throughout, (though it’s never really that scary) but it is also laugh-out-loud funny. In fact, that’s perhaps one of my only real problems with it, is the fact that there’s not as much real horror and dread as there could be. It has definite horror elements, but it’s more of a love letter to horror films than anything else. ‘Fun’ is the word I would probably go with, and the one that I think best describes what you can expect going into it.
The rest of the cast is solid as well. The other four cabin kids all fill their (intentionally stereotypical) roles quite well, managing to make you feel like these characters are the archetypes, and still actual human beings, prone to occasionally defying the stereotypes of those archetypes that you have in your head. Chris Hemsworth (who got cast as Thor while they were filming this) is great as your standard jock, and Kristin Connolly is adorable and relatable as our virginal lead, Dana. The characters are smarter than your average horror victims, and the film has some great things to say about the dumb behavior usually exhibited by characters of this sort.
Actually, the film just has a lot to say in general, about horror films and movies on the whole. It’s clearly written by people who love movies for people who love movies, and that sort of infectious joy carries to the audience. You could argue that it’s a bit in love with it’s own cleverness, but hey, it’s really really clever, so I’ll give it a pass on that one. And more than that, it’s totally f*cking nuts, especially in the third act.
And that’s really all I feel comfortable saying about it. I had some of the twists and turns (including a wonderful cameo) ruined for me beforehand, so I certainly don’t want to inflict that same suffering on any of you. So do yourselves a favor and run (don’t walk) to see Cabin in the Woods, ‘cause you never know what might be chasing you.