So here’s the straight poop: you probably shouldn’t even be reading this review. Cabin in the Woods is the best kind of surprise. The kind of film you shouldn’t know anything about until you pull the bow on the box and it explodes in your face like one of Jokey Smurf’s boxes o’ sexual metaphor. In fact, even the carefully cut trailer gives away too much. You should pretty much just lock yourself into a bomb shelter with your fingers in your ears screeching “La la la!” at the top of your everloving pink lungs until you get to see it.
If you like horror films (heck, if you’ve even just plain seen a horror film from the last 30 years) than you should appreciate the film’s approach, given you have any kind of sense of humor and enjoyment of film tropes. It is the Community of genre-filmmaking: a brilliant screenwriting exercise that manages to be commentary and parody of something the creators are obviously deeply in love with, while not sacrificing what makes it work as a genuine classic of its genus at the same time. Like Community is to the American sitcom, hence the comparison.
In this case, the target is films about people (usually teens and students) going into the woods and finding something going bump in the night that may be animal, vegetable or mineral. A worthy foe indeed, as it has been well worn since the days that the first couple of Evil Deads were injecting themselves into the veins of midnight moviegoers with an axe.
At its core, this is often a film about the very nature of the viewers of horror films. The cheers at the kills, the obvious hearstring tugs that are attempted by throwing together one-dimensional groups of “identifiable” archtypes… but thankfully the wry observation never gets in the way of telling the story
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, the writers and director, respectively, are thankfully up to the task and tear things wide open with an incredibly fun movie. They’ve both been long-time creators of that type of subversion of formula, mixing humor and horror on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Goddard proved himself as a solo writer with a fresh take on giant monster films with Cloverfield. And here they combine their efforts into a take fresh enough that it may make your smelly local cineplex feel like it’s been thoroughly Febreezed. This isn’t just a greatest hits reel of their time on The WB, as nice as that would have been. This is a dark movie that plays dirty and takes advantage of it’s R rating.
Emphasis on dark. Given the cinematography, thank God that the 3D conversion they started on this movie while it was shelved due to the great MGM debacle was nixed. Hopefully someday people in Hollywood will realize that converting stuff that takes place mostly at night is a terrible idea.
The actors in the movie are uniformly great. The kids have been seen in the trailers and they give performances that are so fantastically subtle in the slow transformation that takes place with their characters, that many people probably won’t even realize how good they are. (And of course, Amy Acker continues to be my muse.) But the true MVPs here are Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. They’ve been kept off the ads for the film, but I don’t feel bad about disclosing their involvement due to the fact that theirs are the first characters to appear. In the final cut, they could very well make or break the film and boy, do they make it.
As much fun as it would be to simply rehash the great scenes and fantastic (and often hilarious) ideas, it would simply be a disservice to you, the folks at home. That conversation is something that will take place over many, many midnight screenings, slumber parties and film student dorm rooms to come over the next couple of decades.
(Five out of five stars)