If by some miracle you’re reading this without having seen any trailers, TV spots, or clips of The Cabin in the Woods, do yourself a favor and keep it that way before you see the movie. In a world of leaked set photos, trailers for trailers, and general marketing overload, I tend to lean toward avoiding as much of that stuff as I can for most movies anyway, but this movie unquestionably deserves that treatment. There are few films these days that offer up as many twists as The Cabin in the Woods, and there’s nothing quite like that revelatory feeling of being completely surprised at the movies. For fans of horror movies, and even those who just have a cursory knowledge of the cliches of the genre, this is a must-see.
Drew Goddard (the writer of Cloverfield) is making his directorial debut here, and he’s got a perfect writing partner for the sort of genre deconstruction that pervades this movie: none other than “Buffy” and “Firefly” creator and The Avengers director Joss Whedon. As detailed in this great piece at The Playlist, Whedon has been working in the industry for a long time and has a unique screenwriting voice; this collaboration with Goddard provides one of the freshest takes on the tropes of horror movies I’ve ever seen, as the duo manages to find that magical balance between parody and crafting an entry into the genre it’s sending up.
The story here is as basic as they come: five friends take a trip to an isolated old lake house, and scary stuff starts happening. But The Cabin in the Woods isn’t content with just rehashing tired stereotypes; instead, it features a separate narrative that runs parallel to the main story that completely subverts everything we’ve ever known about horror films and how they work. There are also a ton of references to other horror films – the cabin looks eerily similar to the one from The Evil Dead, for example, and the entire third act is loaded with enough great imagery for horror fans to sift through for months on end, dissecting every last wink and nod to the films that informed this one.
The dialogue is smart and funny, and the whole cast – particularly Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford playing characters that I won’t even mention – seems like a great fit for the material. Fran Kranz (“Dollhouse”) does especially great work, and the beautiful Kristen Connolly provides the heart of the film while also being an audience interpreter for what’s going on. For those not as keen on horror flicks who may fear the entire movie is one long scare-fest, think again: Whedon and Goddard infuse the story with plenty of humor to counterbalance the intense moments (of which there are definitely a few).
The whole thing culminates with one of the best “Eff You” moments to authority committed to screen since R.P. McMurphy roamed the halls of the mental institution in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. To give away anything more would be to rob you of the joy of experiencing this gem on your own, so see this movie as quickly as possible so nobody has the chance to ruin it for you. I know it’s still early, but with its wholly original take on the conventions of horror films, The Cabin in the Woods is an early contender for one of the most fun and interesting movies of the year. Until next time…