The Cabin in the Woods

Amusing thriller subverts the horror genre in a way that is wholly appreciated. Five friends on a vacation take a trip in an RV up to the proverbial cabin in the woods. There’s the stock archetypes: The Athlete, The Whore, The Scholar, The Fool, and The Virgin. Well, at least they embody those stereotypes at first glance.  Soon after they arrive they begin playing Truth or Dare. Then bad things start happening. This was directed by Drew Goddard who was the scribe behind Cloverfield. His frequent collaborator Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) writes and produces here so you know this isn’t going to be a straightforward idea. The Cabin in the Woods was shot in 2009 and then shelved until April 2012 due to the financial difficulties of parent studio MGM. Lionsgate ultimately stepped in and purchased distribution rights. Luckily the oft delayed release date has nothing to do with the quality of the picture. What starts out as your basic clichéd setup evolves into something much more unpredictable. It’s a nifty little film, but the details of what happens next is something best discovered by watching the movie.

Most of the events are rather standard horror action on the surface with a modified twist. The general milieu is stridently self aware. Tension builds and is then diffused with humor. So The Cabin in the Woods is essentially a horror comedy. It’s rarely scary, but it is genuinely funny and much more intelligent than the films it’s satirizing. It spoofs clichés so as to expose them. It’s a fine line however. There’s always the danger that the story may fall victim to the very targets it’s parodying. There are moments where the proceedings adhere so religiously to genre conventions that it indeed succumbs to those traps. We’re going to go have sex in the woods, not because we‘re lustful, but because we want to show how stupid kids always do that sort of thing in these types of flicks. As long as we’re watching teens getting naked, I’m not sure there’s really a difference. Likewise, the cast comes off as your run-of-the-mill attractive twenty-somethings, but special mention must go to actor Fran Kranz as Marty, the requisite burnout. He somehow takes a character that could have been an annoyance (and is at first) and turns him into someone engaging.

The Cabin in the Woods is closer to a horror spoof than anything resembling actual terror. Yes, this is one of those oh-so hip-it-hurts movies that deconstructs the genre much in the same way that Scream played with conventions back in 1996. This is the horror of the new millennium. Updated and revised. Scream was scarier. Cabin’s plot is so wrapped up in tongue in cheek sensibility that the half hearted attempts to build suspense are routinely undercut with laughs and sarcasm. It’s pretty smug.  Yet if Scream was more frightening, The Cabin in the Woods is smarter. The script goes further as it questions society’s ease with violence as entertainment. True, that isn’t a concept that is as original as the filmmakers seem to think it is, but gosh if it isn’t compelling as all get out. A polarizing work – this has become the darling of critics and fanboys alike much to the puzzlement of mainstream tastes. What really takes this to the next level is the final third that quite frankly, blew my mind. It follows through on what it sets up in a most satisfying way. Again I won’t reveal anything here. Let’s just say that it’s a dazzling display.

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27 Responses to “The Cabin in the Woods”

  1. I think every movie blog I follow has been posting about this so I need to see it. Been trying to convince my wife to go with me but she hates horror movies…

  2. Great review! Yours is the latest in a string of reviews I’ve read praising the film.

    • Thanks. The reviews are phenomenal, a bit overly so. It’s good, but not the greatest horror film of the last decade as some people are praising it to be.

  3. Nice review. As much as I enjoy a good scare, it’s likely I won’t be seeing this. Not because it looks like another one shat out in time for Friday the 13th (it doesn’t look like that), but because it looks like a conventional “haunted woods” kind of movie. But I could be wrong–I thought last year’s Insidious would be the typical “haunted house” movie…

    • “subverts the horror genre” “evolves into something much more unpredictable” “the final third act blew my mind” But you still think it looks conventional? Um ok. Thanks for commenting!

      • Yeah, sorry. I’m a bit stubborn. Like I said, I may actually enjoy it if I decide to watch it. But I haven’t even seen the god of all horror movies that take place in the woods yet, so I’d probably see that one first. (I think everyone knows of that one. 😉 )

    • I’m guessing you mean The Evil Dead, but gosh I can think of at least 10 classic horror films that take place in the woods.

      • I actually meant Blair Witch. 🙂 Didn’t know there were that many sorry about that…and Evil Dead is on my list, too, but I’ll probably watch it edited because of the tree raping scene or whatever…

    • Ah. That came to mind too, but when you called it “the god of all horror movies” I figured you meant something earlier than 1999.

      Last House on the Left (1971), Deliverance (1972) , The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and of course Friday the 13th (1980) all took place in a forest. They’re pretty iconic as well. 🙂

      • Didn’t know Texas Chainsaw Massacre took place in the woods. Looks like there’s a lot of horror movies I still need to see. I’ve only seen a few of the classic ones (from earlier than 1990): The Birds, The Shining, Carrie, Night of the Living Dead, to name a few. 🙂 Sorry I wasn’t clear enough.

  4. This was great. I loved the creative concept. Third part was awesome. Don’t know what I would have done if that were real. Yikes.

  5. Also, I wanted to point out a typographical error in the third paragraph:
    “Again I wont [won’t] reveal anything here.”

  6. Dead on review, I completely agree, you’ve covered everything. I really liked it. I even watched it a second time with a friend (who also enjoyed it). My only (possible) complaint would be that I didn’t see enough of Chris Hemsworth, but really that’s just a personal thing 😉

  7. There’s a chance I’ll be seeing this Tuesday, since I have no school that day. Thanks for the recommendation, Mark!!

  8. Good review. You were much kinder than warranted.

    • I actually know people who actually thought I was too harsh. A few think this was the greatest horror film of the last decade. That’s a bit much. What did you think of it?

  9. moviewriting Says:

    Great review, Mark. It’s such a difficult film to write about and you did a great job! I can’t wait for this to come out on blu ray and watch all the geeky outtakes, and listen to the commentary!

  10. I just saw this…difficult film to critique. I enjoyed it a bit more than you, but I agree with the points you make.

  11. Victor De Leon Says:

    I need to go back and watch this film again per your review. I reviewed it a ways back and I think I may have had a knee jerk type of reaction to it but I have been reading how the movie gets better with repeated viewings. I may even change my rating. We’ll see. Great work on this one!

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