Review: The Cabin in the Woods
PLOT: Five friends head to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun, not realizing that forces outside of their control have vastly different plans for them.
(NOTE: This review will be almost completely SPOILER FREE. That said, if you want to know absolutely nothing about THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, then you should move along...)
REVIEW: Somewhere along the line, Joss Whedon described THE CABIN IN THE WOODS – a film he produced and co-wrote with director Drew Goddard – as a “loving hate letter”. Seems like he meant (in his usual subversive way) that it was a hate letter to the genre he obviously adores yet is compelled to undermine, but it might be more accurate to describe it as a loving hate letter to horror fans. CABIN puts its mark on the genre so indelibly that it'll be near impossible to watch your favorite “Dead Teenager” movie again without having Whedon and Goddard's film pop up in your mind. The same applies for future horror flicks where young, pretty protagonists find themselves stranded and facing certain death from a maniac/demon/evil spirit/fill-in-the-blank. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS' affectionate and twisted approach to the well-worn material makes it unforgettable. Intense, funny and sometimes just plain nuts, it's a sure bet to land on Top Ten lists and achieve “classic” status by year's end.
If you've seen the trailers, then you know more than what I'm willing to describe here. If you've successfully avoided them (and I'd continue to do so if I were you), then you can be secure in the knowledge that I'll only lay out the bare bones of the film's storyline: Five college friends, on one of those whims that folks like them have in movies like this, decide to visit one of their cousin's ramshackle cottage in the ass-end of nowhere for a weekend of the usual naughty extracurricular activities. Plot initiated.
In our group we have good girl Dana (Kristen Connolly), smart jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Curt's bubbly girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison), pothead Marty (Fran Kranz) and Dana's potential love interest, nice guy Holden (Jesse Williams). They're all affable and charming and not particularly memorable... and that's just how the film's creators want them.
What our likable characters don't realize, until it's too late, is that their visit to the cabin – and everything that happens within and around it – is well beyond their control. Soon the trip devolves into a nightmare and it becomes clear that there's much more going on than meets the eye.
Not spoiling the plot is a kindness to the casual moviegoer, but the truth is, if you're familiar with Whedon and Goddard's work (Goddard wrote for Whedon's “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”), a lot of what happens in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS will not be unexpected. You expect curve balls and disarming humor amid the gory chaos from these guys, so the movie is almost predictable in its very unpredictability. Whedon so thoroughly deconstructed horror, comedy and horror-comedy with “Buffy” that some of the twists in CABIN feel like they could be left over from the beloved series.
Do not get me wrong, however: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is an immensely enjoyable experience, and will soon be considered required viewing for horror lovers – and all appreciators of movies that keep you on your toes. Whedon and Goddard have a surplus of wild notions and surreal visuals to share, and they unload them at a pace that increasingly accelerates until the whole box of tricks is overturned in a third act that plays like every horror nerd's memory bank has been emptied onto the screen. The duo aren't shy about thieving hallmarks from other scary movie franchises, nor do they expect to be reprimanded for it; THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is partially a horror movie about horror movies, but in a way that isn't tiresome or derivative. (It will be compared to SCREAM in some quarters, but it's doing something quite different.)
The main cast - not unlike the characters they portray - is appealing, if unremarkable. Hemsworth certainly displays some of the star status he's achieved since shooting this (it was filmed in 2009), while Connolly is a big-eyed cutie that Whedon seems to gravitate to. Kranz's stoner Marty steals a few scenes with his voice-of-reason sarcasm, but the real crowd-pleasers are veteran character actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who are featured as... well, I can't tell you that. Rest assured that in this movie filled with young, charismatic up-and-comers, it's the old pros who get the juiciest roles.
But I could go on and on... THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is pure, giddy entertainment from start to finish, and that's what truly sticks with you. It's a rare occasion to leave a theater smiling from ear to ear and talking about how you can't wait to see a movie again, but CABIN absolutely has that effect. You won't want to miss it.