The Cabin in the Woods, 2012.
Directed by Drew Goddard.
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison and Fran Kranz.
Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods.
Warning: Here Be Spoilers…
There are movies that serve as the defining example of their genre. The films that immediately spring to mind when you mention a cinematic category. You talk about drama and movies like The Godfather or Citizen Kane enter the conversation. If someone brings up sports movies you immediately hear Bull Durham, Rudy or Remember the Titans. Then there are the movies that attempt to go one step further and deconstruct the genre. These are interesting little meta movies that try to peel back the layers and play on our expectations. The Cabin in the Woods is one of these intricate little monsters that is as much about the horror audience as it is the horror movie.
Why do we like scary movies? What drives us to pack into a crowded theater and shriek as comely virgins and brain dead jocks are savaged by threats both supernatural and terrestrial? Horror films are designed to stir our more savage leanings, especially our penchant for sex and violence. Psychologically speaking it taps into a very primitive place. The Cabin in the Woods is posing as a horror film but it’s really about something more. It’s about appeasing our base urges. In reality The Cabin in the Woods is a deconstruction not only of horror films but of the fans. Films like this can often degrade into a sanctimonious circle jerk. Fortunately, it’s a slightly scary, often darkly humorous examination of scary movie.
Five college kids take off for a weekend of debauchery in the middle of nowhere. How many movies have we seen with this plot? And yet somehow that is exactly the point. Right away you know you’re dealing with something that feels a little too familiar. There’s the criminally good looking athlete (Chris Hemsworth), the sensitive brainy guy (Jesse Williams), the slut (Anna Hutchinson), the good girl (Kristen Connelly), and the stoner/geek (Fran Kranz) to provide some comic relief. They end up at a scary little cabin that no one in their right mind would want to spend a weekend. Once there they discover a cellar full of secrets, artifacts, and journals that seem to reveal something far more sinister at play.
Soon enough the undead rise and a very recognizable scenario begins to play out. The kids are getting picked off one by one. The difference is that the undead menaces seem to be under the control of an ancient order looking for human sacrifice and are intentionally manipulating the carnage that’s unfolding around them. I can’t say more without giving anything away. Trust me when I say I’m being intentionally nebulous. There’s an entire facet of The Cabin in the Woods that no respectable film writer should reveal. Let’s just say the movie isn’t exactly what you think it is, and it’s a hell of a lot funnier that you’d expect. For those who have already seen it, continue reading. For those of you who haven’t: stop reading here and come back to this review after you’ve had the pleasure of seeing the most unique horror film of the last forty years. Spoilers ahoy.
So the major twist of The Cabin in the Woods involves a group of bureaucratic technicians who control the evil little landscape where are heroes are stranded. They’ve been brought to the cabin to die in order to appease an ancient race of Gods who will destroy humanity if specific sacrifices aren’t made. It’s been going on for so long the annual sacrifice has become commonplace. Employees take bets on what evil method the kids will be dispatched with. The terrordome the kids are trapped in has access to all sorts of horrible machinations. The aforementioned zombies, werewolves, hellspawns, poltergeists, demon babies, and any other nightmare you’ve ever conceived. It’s like the world’s scariest zoo. Of course, things don’t go according to plan. Despite the evil organizations best efforts, some of our disposable college students wind up surviving long enough to put the entire operation at risk.
The mayhem is controlled by two guys named Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) who seem more likely to sell you a used car than control the mechanisms for appeasing an ancient race in order to save civilization. These two guys make the movie. They bring a weird sense of gravitas to the proceedings. In spite of the sheer amount of logic leaps required to buy into the premise, they make it seem remarkably probable.
It was about an hour in where i started to see beyond the horrors being displayed on screen and realized what exactly writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard were trying to achieve. They weren’t just telling an unconventional horror story, they were making a movie about horror movie fans. The kids being sacrificed on camera represents the horror films. The evil organization full of pencil pushing bureaucrats are the movie studios churning out the familiar scenarios, and the angry old Gods demanding the sacrifice of young flesh is the audience. We’re the ones demanding to watch attractive people be murdered in imaginative ways. Once you realize how strangely brilliant the premise is, everything goes off the rails.
There’s a scene in the third act that might be my favorite moment from any film this year. Ten minutes of unbridled insanity where every horrible creature ever imagined is let loose in a symphony of suffering – werewolves, giant snakes, masked serial killers, evil clowns, faceless ballerinas, flesh eating zombies – all of them inflicting endless pain and spilling tankers of blood onto the off white walls and linoleum flooring of a frills free office. It’s like watching every horror film ever made mashed up into one long sequence. If you’re a fan of horror films, this is your money shot.
The Cabin in the Woods isn’t just another horror film. It’s an instant classic. It doesn’t define the genre, but it deconstructs it like no other film before. And it has one of the most wonderfully dark endings ever conceived. If you go in with no expectations, you’re in for a wild ride. If you think you’re watching another by the book hack and slash, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Well done gentlemen. Well done.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★