5 out of 5 stars
In an age where Hollywood seems to be running out of ideas at an exponential rate, there’s not a genre where that’s more evident than horror. It seems that every film released in that category is either based on a book, an older film, a newer film, a foreign film , or some combination of those identifiers.
On the surface, Cabin in the Woods would appear to be a story we’ve heard a thousand times already. Partying teens head to a remote cabin and misbehave until something kills them for their transgressions of being young and sexy. But right away, you can see that this film is something much different.
Rather, we open with two middle aged men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in a secure government facility. They joke around and talk about weekend plans, but soon we learn their job description is something far more sinister. They assume their positions in a grand command and control center, and we learn that they’re monitoring the film’s titular group of teens.
The young and hot posse facing certain demise this time around includes the innocent Dana (Kristen Connolly), the sultry Jules (Anna Hutchson), her jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his football buddy Holden (Jesse Williams) and stoner friend Marty (Fran Kranz). If this composition sounds familiar to you, there’s a reason for that.
As the trip progresses it becomes clear that the events are heavily under the influence of the overseers in the station. The cabin and surrounding woods are force fielded off from the rest of the world, and the basement is stacked with a mountain of creepy items. Upon interacting with a particular object, a long-lost diary, a family of zombie rednecks rises from the dead to terrorize the teens.
Cabin in the Woods is best approached with an open mind and a working knowledge of the horror genre. If you have both of these things, the film is absolutely phenomenal, and a hilarious ninety minute running joke that should have you smiling throughout. When Curt proves he isn’t a dumb jock by ordering the group to stay together, the overseers pump in drugs to make him dumber until he finally gives the advice that they should “split up, to cover more ground that way.” It’s a horror movie line that’s never made any sense the hundreds of times its been uttered, and it might be the moment you realize just how meta this movie really is.
On the monitors, the overseers look to a similar station in Japan. A ghostly woman in white with long black hair terrorizes a group of schoolgirls. All over the world, stations are dedicated to creating these sorts of scenarios. These victims must die, and have to do so in very particular ways. But why? That’s the central mystery of the Cabin in the Woods, and one you’ll have to discover on your own.
Simply put, this film is brilliant, from start to finish. The first two thirds go through all the stereotypical horror moments you could imagine, juxtaposed against this oddly casual work environment that has employees taking bets on the means of execution for these teens. It seems that zombie rednecks were only one of many ways they could have met their end.
But do they? When things go wrong for the overseers, the last third of the film descends into madness in a way that will make your jaw hang open for the rest of the film. Without giving too much away, let’s just say there are plenty of other monsters waiting to come out and play, and things escalate rather quickly.
It’s no surprise that Joss Whedon has been intimately involved with this project from the beginning. His signature style is everywhere, from the smart and funny dialogue to the actors themselves (it was nice to see Dollhouse’s Franz Kranz and Amy Acker here). But the real star of the show is probably Drew Goddard, the man who penned Cloverfield and now co-wrote Cabin with Whedon and directed the film itself. The pair of them have created one of the most original, high quality horror films in recent memory, and possibly one of the best entries into the genre ever.
Perhaps the move won’t be as beloved by those who can’t get past the silliness of it, or who can’t identify all the dozens of horror tropes that the film deconstructs, but for fans of the genre, it’s absolutely fantastic, and undeniably funny, even as gore coats the screen.
This is a film that can’t be recommended highly enough. It’s everything that Hollywood horror has not been recently, meaning original, frightening, funny, and smart all at the same time. And thank god there’s no possible room for a sequel.
5 out of 5 stars