Why are people attracted to horror movies? Is there some sort of catharsis that comes with watching a group of attractive college students put through a series of terrifying events? Why does each character take on a specific role, and how does that affect their fate?
“The Cabin in the Woods,” directed by Drew Goddard, who co-wrote the script with Joss Whedon (TV’s “Firefly,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), looks to deconstruct what makes the horror genre tick. If it sounds like a heady, academic exercise, think again. “The Cabin in the Woods” is an ingeniously deranged, outrageously funny and impeccably well-crafted horror film that explodes the genre, examining all of its clichés and tearing them to pieces, creating a wildly entertaining movie that will forever alter the way audiences look at other horror movies.
Do not be put off by the commercials for this movie that make it look like just another slasher flick. “The Cabin in the Woods” does not even come close to being formulaic or typical. Goddard and Whedon have thrown every insane idea they have ever had into this film, and the fun they had creating this movie is infectious.
The story starts out very simply. Five college students travel to a remote cabin for a weekend of partying. The characters they play start out as cut-and-dry: Dana (Kristen Connelly, “Revolutionary Road”) is the sweet, naïve girl, Curt (Chris Hemsworth, “Thor”) is the jock, Jules (Anna Hutchinson, TV’s “Go Girls”) is the air-headed slut, Holden (Jesse Williams, TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) is the nerd and Marty (Franz Kanz, TV’s “Dollhouse”) is the pothead.
But when the group reaches the cabin, some questions begin to rise. Why is there a two-way mirror in one of the bedrooms? Why are there so many strange artifacts down in the basement? Why do some characters undergo strange personality shifts, and most importantly, why does the film keep cutting away to two office workers named Sitterson (Richard Jenkins, “Step Brothers”) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford, TV’s “The West Wing”), who appear to be running surveillance on the cabin? All of these questions and more are answered, leading to some of the most bizarre, whacked-out and not to mention hilarious plot twists in a long time.
It is best to go into “The Cabin in the Woods” knowing as little about it as possible, but it can be said that this film ingeniously picks apart the construction of horror movies. Goddard and Whedon have made their careers out of taking clichéd genres, like the vampire story with “Buffy’ and the sci-fi narrative with “Firefly” and turning them on their head by looking at and making fun of what makes them work and in turn creating characters that have surprising traits and backstories. This film does the same as all of their characters act in ways that undermine their roles. Curt, the jock, is actually a nice guy and is quite intelligent. Marty is also intelligent despite being high as a kite the entire time ( a gag involving his collapsible bong is priceless). Dana is pegged as the innocent one, but she has a checkered past of her own. Whedon’s trademark dialogue really shines in this movie; it is very witty, intelligent and makes every character likeable and interesting. All of the actors give good performances amid the chaos; Jenkins and Whitford’s banter is darkly funny, and it only gets darker when their motivations are revealed. Lutz is the movie’s major standout, turning the stoner role that has been done to death into something funny and new.
“The Cabin in the Woods” is riotously funny most of the time, but the real accomplishment is that it is genuinely scary at some points. Horror movies work when there are fleshed-out characters dealing with the situation; the terror is heightened when the audience cares about the characters. Goddard is a very skilled director, refusing to go for cheap scares and finding the humor in every possible situation, even as the film’s lunacy reaches the breaking point and becomes horrifically violent. This film was shot in 2009 but kept getting delayed due to MGM Studios’ financial woes. The fact that this movie finally sees the light of day is beneficial to everyone.
“The Cabin in the Woods” is not just for horror buffs; its untamed energy can be appreciated by anyone. It takes a genre that has been utterly devoid of creativity for decades and brings it roaring back to life. The sign of a great movie is if the joy and spirit of its creators can be felt in every frame; “The Cabin in the Woods” is no exception.