It is the main staple of horror films, the seemingly innocuous setting of a secluded cabin nestled amongst the twisted trunks of trees that reach out with their spindly branches to menace you and your group of friends that all match a certain character type. The dilapidated cabin, worn down by the elements and years offers an eerie setting for which the unknown and it’s effects are amplified, also the cabin in the woods is the titular, iconic image for horror fans.
The Cabin in the Woods takes the notion of horror films, tropes, scares and all the things that go bump into the night and creates one of the most meta horror films to come along in a, well, full moon maybe. Given the old adage of imitation is the highest form of flattery, The Cabin in the Woods brings together everything you love about horror movies and gives it the viking funeral pyre treatment. I will say that this is one of my favorite horror movies to date for what it manages to achieve, a full on meta axe to the faces of all things horror.
This review will be heavy on the spoilers, so take my advice and see the movie then come back to read the review. You won’t find a funner, bloodier movie than The Cabin in the Woods.
The Cabin in the Woods is the brainchild of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, who create a pop culture, cheeky ode to the horror film genre which never skimps on the scares, kills and all good things that make horror movies memorable. The film centers around a group of five friends taking a vacation and spending it at a secluded cabin in the mountains. Chris Hemsworth is the jock of the group Curt, while his girlfriend Jules is the usual blonde sex queen played by Anna Hutchinson. Together they manage to get the nerdy, quiet girl Dana, played by Kristen Connolly, away from studying her books and pushing her to hook-up with the intellectual jock Holden, played by Jesse Williams. To round out the group, the typical stoner/philosopher Marty comes along to fill that niche character group, played wonderfully by Fran Kranz. Well they head to the cabin, meet a overzealous religious nut at the gas station spouting off danger and sin ahead of them, but they give him the finger and thus begins the end of their lives.
The setting for the story is actually much more clever than just a parade of familiar horror tropes, rather the crutch of the story is rooted in that the actions and deaths of those plucky teens is controlled and used as a vehicle to sate a higher need for death and bloodshed. This is where the meta-ness of the film comes into play. In the opening scene, the true nature of the film comes into light. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are having some water cooler banter about their daily lives as they move through the halls of some sort of laboratory, until it is revealed that their jobs relate to the proceedings happening at the cabin. In reality, all the things that happen at the cabin, from the participants to events are controlled by them as a sort of gamekeeper, safari experience. They direct them to their certain dooms, all from the comfort of a cockpit.
The premise is absurd, a sort of pilot control for horror movies that kind of lends us the notion that everything cliche that happens in horror movies are all controlled from a switch board that has all the tropes laid out and identified. Are the teens not doing the business quick enough? Pump them pheromones into the cabin. How do we get the kids to the cellar to decide their fate? Why a quick breeze that happens to blow open the cellar door. Everything is deliberate, but it all has a purpose to the story. The Cabin in the Woods incorporates all the things we love about horror movies into a blood soaked package for our enjoyment.
The film is amazing, the sort of tongue and cheek spoof of a genre that actually plays it straight and ends up being amazing in the process. The notion that horror movies are formulaic is played out in front of our eyes, from the setting of the cabin to the choice of monsters that will end your life. It is fantastic to see the little odes to other horror movies and familiar villains that populate our nightmares. From killer unicorns, scary ghost children and the old favorite, zombies, The Cabin in the Woods brings them together to unleash their collective terror upon the cast and people of the audience. But it isn’t just the monsters that are familiar, it is the gratifying scares and kills that make this film complete. Whedon and Goddard take the care that is required to keep this film from becoming a spoof of the genre and a scare filled horror movie. One that should be honored by all the die hard fans of horror movies and cherished like the last breathe you have before the killer delivers the final blow.
I can’t begin to say how much fun it was to watch The Cabin in the Woods. I might not be a horror film fan, but I can appreciate when a film takes the concept of horror movies and turns it on its head. It’s a smart horror movie that doesn’t turn into torture porn that so many movies seem to dabble in, rather it weaves a twisted tale of gods and monsters and sacrifices to appease the darkness that is in all of us. It does all this by keeping the setting familiar while bringing some biting commentary to the series. I wouldn’t call it a thinking man’s horror film, but it certainly feels that way.
*images via RottenTomatoes