About a week or so ago, Comedy Central started doing some promotions for the new Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard collaboration, The Cabin in the Woods. In said promotion, they showed some clips of the film, as well as some intertitles that said something along the lines of: “Five Kids Go To A Cabin”, then the next one said, “Think You Know This Movie?”, while the final one said, “Dead F***ing Wrong”. Before that, I literally couldn’t get away from all the critics writing about how the film revolutionized the horror genre as we know it.
When previews for The Cabin in the Woods first came out in late 2011, I sighed a resigned sigh that sent me into a minute long depression. That is, of course, until I saw two names that I wish had come much earlier in the trailer. Those names are Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. Responsible for creating “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”, “Firefly”, Serenity, Toy Story, Cloverfield, and “Lost”, they’re basically the reason that movies and television are still fun.
Of course, I still wasn’t completely sold on the idea of a film about a cabin in the woods, only because I’ve seen many a film about dead teenagers in a cabin in the woods. Still, the simplistic title and genius minds behind the film led me to believe that this cabin had a secret that the creators not dare reveal in the trailer. And damn was I right.
From the opening scene, Cabin in the Woods is a baffling product, offering the viewer some hilariously amusing banter between two middle aged men played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. Named Sitterson and Hadley, respectively, the two men seem to be working in a top secret government lab. They refer to a glitch that occurred in ’98, and talk about their home lives just as anyone would. Cut to a group of teenagers packing up an RV for a weekend off the grid, and you’ve got a confused viewer. But have no fear, the 90 minutes following that were more than enough to answer my questions.
The film starts out like every other horror film does. The college kids ready to party, drink, and bang. They’re going to some isolated area for a weekend of uninhibited fun. Some trendy pop culture references are made, a couple of laughs are shared, and after stopping at a creepy gas station owned by a creepy guy, they make their way to said isolated area, only to be slaughtered mercilessly by the evil within. But something about the set-up and delivery in the first 20 minutes of the film is fresh. It’s something we’ve all seen, but before any of the real surprises come into play, we’re given what every other horror movie gives the viewer, but it’s better. It’s smarter. It’s more lighthearted.
Cabin in the Woods is an extremely hard film to review only because a lot of the fun comes from the giant reveals during the film’s first, second, and third acts. Each twist and turn topping the last, what Cabin in the Woods lacks in character development, it completely makes up for in pure originality and hilarity. We’ve all had to sit through the disgustingly bad dialogue that almost every slasher movie starts with. We’ve all had to deal with the jock, the whore, the stoner, the scholar, and the virgin character archetypes that litter almost every teen slasher flick gives us. We’ve even had to deal with the “twist” endings that are closer to insults to intelligence than they are actual surprises.
As an avid horror fan, I’m honestly a little angry at how modern horror has no respect for its viewers. That is, of course, until Joss Whedon created what he calls a “loving hate letter” to the genre’s declining ability to do what it needs to; scare its viewers. But it seems like instead of scaring them in the theater, they’ve been scaring them away from the theater, resulting in a stark decline in revenue for primarily horror distributors like Lionsgate. That’s why Cabin in the Woods is not only a good film, it’s an important one. It’s a hilarious dark comedy, a disgusting zombie/slasher, an apology, and a revolt all in one neat little package.
I’m not going to say much, but I will give a little bit of the first twist away. I promise it’s not nearly enough to spoil the film for you. In fact, recent TV spots for Cabin in the Woods have been doing everything but spoon-feeding you the film’s twist, so I might as well. The two men I mentioned earlier, Sitterson and Hadley, work for a secret organization, and their job is to control everything that happens during the students’ stay at the cabin. That’s all I’m saying, I promise.
Cabin in the Woods has characters that are actually likable and realistic. Curt, the group’s “jock”, is actually a sociology major. The “stoner”, Marty, is definitely a stoner, but not an inept stoner. He doesn’t hold the key to their survival, nor is he particularly smart or stupid. He’s just..a person. By tweaking the stereotypes a little bit, the film is already about 10x better than most horror films, but I promise you, that’s only the beginning.
The film is littered with clever references to older films, older cliches, and other horror films that tried to do what this one has done. With a little bit of sympathy for the inadequacies of other writers, Whedon and Goddard proceed to tear every other scary movie a new hole, even those that are as self-aware as Scream and Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. I’m just glad that these guys had the balls to sit America down and show them how it’s done.
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at bloodshed as much as I did in The Cabin in the Woods. Granted, the film could have used some better scares and a little more character development, but by essentially flipping the horror genre on its ass, the film forces the viewer to ask themselves some moral questions about good guys, bad guys, and the impact of likability on a character’s fate. Are they in charge of their life? Their death? Or are we, the viewer, by popular demand, in charge of who makes it out alive? Or, going deeper, is it up to the inspired writer who attempts to switch up the formula a little bit? But finally, is it up to the studio who produces the films? Are they in charge where things go? How they’re made? Who lives, who dies? If that’s true for the average horror film, well, in the case of The Cabin of the Woods, it’s every man for himself. And didn’t we, as fans, always want it to be that way?