Horror movies have operated under the same predictable formula for so long that the experience of watching them has become a gory equation of sorts, where the audience knowingly smirks as Teen Archetype A makes Stupid Decision B and is killed by Psychopath C. Wes Craven’s clever satire, “Scream,” picked up on the joke and expertly mocked the tired tropes of the genre, but did little to actually transcend it. This is where “The Cabin in the Woods” comes in to blow your mind.
Writer Joss Whedon, a television and comic book titan, co-wrote and produced “The Cabin in the Woods” with first-time director Drew Goddard. Together, the two have crafted something that is ingenious, hysterical and seriously next level. The term “game-changer” fairly applies here. What starts out as a premise unfolding just as you expect it would, turns into something completely different and unexpected. The TV ads might seem like they are giving a lot away but they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what this film is really about and what it accomplishes.
The basic setup is familiar and simple: five young college friends take a getaway trip to an isolated summer cabin in the woods. After stumbling upon a cursed old diary, they accidentally awaken an undead family of “redneck zombies.” Or do they? Going in, we know everyone’s being spied on from what looks like a NASA control room. Why, exactly? How do the two locations connect? Giving the answer to these questions would almost completely ruin the fun of the movie. Having each left-field surprise hit you in the first viewing is too much of a treat to spoil. Let’s just say that like last year’s “Hugo,” “The Cabin in the Woods” is an irresistibly fun homage to the films that inspired its conception.
While this review must remain spoiler-free, it can be pointed out how Whedon and Goddard’s sharp script lets the actors make their potentially shallow characters wittier than they should be in this kind of film. Fran Kranz especially sticks out as the stoner who provides the voice of the eye-rolling moviegoer whenever someone says or does something highly irrational. When a game of truth or dare in the cabin is interrupted by the “WHAM!” of a cellar door violently opening on its own, someone casually says, “The wind must’ve blown it open.” Kranz’s character, perplexed by the idiocy of this statement, quips with, “And that makes what kind of sense?” Classic.
What makes “The Cabin in the Woods” so unique and enjoyable, on top of its desire to constantly entertain, is its unhinged imagination. You don’t have to like cabin horror movies to get a kick out of where the movie boldly ventures in its sensationally graphic third act. Remember that control room? There is so much more to it than you can possibly fathom.
Photos courtesy of Lionsgate