You know the story. Five attractive college kids—the jock, the flirt, the geek, the stoner, and the virgin—go for a weekend getaway to a remote lakeside cabin in the woods, only to have things go horribly wrong. For decades, movies like Friday the 13th (and its numerous knock-offs) have given us this formula; you know what to expect, and you know how the story ends… well, at least you THINK you know the story. The Cabin in the Woods is here to tell you that what you THINK you know is completely wrong.
Penned by geek-god Joss Whedon (of “Buffy,” “Firefly,” and Dr. Horrible fame), Cabin is a complete and utter mind-warp. Both as a hilarious satire of the countless horror clichés we have come to expect and as a brutal and suspenseful fright flick in its own right, Cabin succeeds masterfully – at least for most of the film.
Two-thirds of the way through, the film changes course unexpectedly and devolves into something entirely different: not only a send-up of the genre conventions we love to laugh at, but also a critique of modern American audience expectations and an all-out bloodbath where all hell breaks loose and everything we’ve come to expect from the film is turned on its head and bludgeoned mercilessly.
Confused yet? Unfortunately, for me to give anything away about the story would be to take all the fun out of Cabin in the Woods – trust me, though, when I say that you’ve never seen a film as bat-sh** crazy as this.
Cabin begins typically, setting up a premise we are all-too familiar with, yet giving us the tiniest clues that something isn’t quite right – all I can say is that there are forces behind the scenes controlling not only the decisions the kids make, but also every twist and turn that takes place in the mysterious cabin. But why?
Whedon and director Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) have quite a blast with the script, winking at the audience to let us know just why so many things go wrong in horror movies – who, for instance, would ignore the warnings of a sinister old man who says you shouldn’t go into the woods? Who do we always expect will be the final survivor, and for what reason?
Why in the heck would any of these kids think splitting up is their best chance for survival? And just what is going to possess two seemingly smart people to have sex in the creepy woods in the middle of the night? Best of all, the writing is sharp, funny, and very clever, giving us little clues as to just what the hell is going on while still keeping us guessing.
Most notable about this tale is that it is completely driven by plot twists to move the story forward, each one more outlandish than the previous one, keeping the audience on their toes and ridding the film of any predictability whatsoever. Just as you think you’ve got it figured out, the rug is pulled out from under you. Perhaps that’s what makes Cabin so much fun to watch – there is just no way of knowing what exactly is happening until the various twists come together in the third act, forming a veritable Rubik’s cube as satisfying to piece together as it is to finally have the answer.
I must note, though, that the finished product is rather underwhelming. The payoff doesn’t pack the emotional punch that one hopes it will after the promising build-up of the first 75 minutes of the film. The aforementioned bloodbath is complete chaos, as expected, yet the explanation for it is thin, with a series of small reveals substituting for one big justification at the end.
While the lack of a “big reveal” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, one cannot help but wish that a film this smart and fun would have taken a different route in the final act, perhaps giving the audience a more believable or concrete picture of why the onscreen mayhem is happening.
In true horror form, no big names are amongst the cast, with the five victims portrayed by relative unknowns, the biggest name being Chris “Thor” Hemsworth. Yet this works to the film advantage, as the script hints rather heavily at the notion of being typecast and the implications that notion has in the horror genre. Also true to form, blood and gore is on full display here, with very little expense spared. Here though, the blood adds to the comedy, returning the genre to its over-the-top roots and giving us excessive blood and carnage (real or fake? Hmmm…) simply to toy with what we’ve come to expect from horror films.
Furthermore, the plentiful comedic elements of the script keep anything from getting too serious – each time the intensity starts to ratchet up to 11, Whedon and Goddard pull back, reminding us of the true intention the film has of parodying the clichéd, not becoming it.
Overall, Cabin in the Woods is perhaps one of the most original movies to come out of Hollywood in years. Smartly written as both hilarious and suspenseful, Cabin earns points for daring to be downright ludicrous and keeping the audience on their toes. While I did not personally care for the movie’s ending, I appreciate what the filmmakers are trying to accomplish in giving us a payoff that doesn’t exactly play out as you’d expect. My disappointment with the third act is not a reflection on the quality of the film, and it’s hard to hate on a film that so effortlessly toes the line between skewering the clichés and being wholly original itself. I couldn’t help but like Cabin in the Woods for its absurd campiness and the boldness of the filmmakers to point out the insanity of the horror genre and turn the conventions completely upside-down – all the while giving us a fun roller coaster ride worth the ticket price.