I went on IMDb to start writing this review, and I clicked on The Cabin in the Woods so I could call up the details, like the correct spelling of actors’ names and so forth. As I scrolled to the bottom of the page to where the message boards lie, I noticed one labelled “Evil Dead rip-off anyone?” Two things occurred: one, this poster clearly hadn’t see the movie as he obviously missed the point, and two, does Sam Raimi own the patent on young people going to a cabin in the woods and having bad things happen to them?
If Drew Goddard’s feature directorial debut reminds you of a horror movie you’ve previously seen, than good… It’s supposed to. This is no remake, no gross out torture porn, and especially no found footage trending piece. Think of Scream, or better still think of Wes Craven’s under-appreciated deconstruction of the franchise he created, New Nightmare. In Nightmare, Craven played on the original Nightmare on Elm Street, exploring the notion of Freddy Krueger as the embodiment of nightmares and human fascination with the horrific. The Cabin in the Woods is like that, but not really.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP
As genius on IMDb inferred from watching the trailer, the plot of the film follows five friends as they take a break from school for a weekend of relaxation and general debauchery in the wilderness. Amongst the gang are alpha jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), his ready for the sorority girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison), the group’s brain Holden (Jesse Williams), the pretty but shy Dana (Kristen Connolly), and resident stoner Marty (Fran Kranz). Despite the fact that they’re all thinly drawn archetypes, they are full-blooded characters in each of their own rights. But do observe how they fit a specific archetype, we’ll come back to that later.
Now this is where we get into some dicey territory, plot discussion-wise speaking, because to me, having seen the movie about a month ago and having seen the ads on TV now, I feel like they’re giving far too much away. Needless to say, the secret of the cabin has a lot more to it than the basement full horror movie collectables and freaky one way glass between two of the bedrooms. (The paintings of human sacrifice though are surprisingly apt though, but we’ll come back to that later.)
Key to this unexpected and too-spoilery to talk about aspect of the plot are the characters played by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. Think of Hadley and Sitterson as the Statler and Waldorf of the film, offering much needed context and commentary. I think once you’ve seen the film, you’ll agree that they are ostensibly the stars of The Cabin in the Woods, an unusual choice for what is still, in many ways, a youth-focused horror movie.
For everyone going out Friday night in their “Joss Whedon is My Master Now” t-shirt know that this is a through and through Whedon project. The script is littered with bits of Whedon-speak, and regular Whedon players like the aforementioned Kranz (Dollhouse) as well as Amy Acker (Angel) and Tom Lenk (Buffy) all have parts. But despite the aesthetics, this is ultimately Goddard’s film. He has a definite vision and pull to execute it well, which is highly impressive for a first feature film. Goddard also does well holding on to the mystery of the cabin and revealing details in a very deliberate and well-paced manner.
And thank God someone talked the powers that be out of doing this in 3-D because I’ve seen one too many horror movies shot in the dark for atmosphere only to get lost in the conversion process. Doing Cabin in the Woods in 3-D would have helped nothing, and probably would have cost in the long run because this is a film about story and characters, not visuals. That’s not to say that the film looks horrible though, the cinematography is very atmospheric, the creature effects are fantastic, and the film is well-paced with appropriate jumps in places.
In the end, I’m not sure how “commercial” the film is, it’s going to be one of those you get it or you don’t deals. It’s a horror movie for horror movie fans by horror movie fans; a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge, a kind of you get it or you don’t. The Cabin in the Woods maybe able to achieve automatic cult status, it may still be talked about by movie geeks in the know years from now, but I don’t think it’s going to be a certified box office smash, and maybe that’s okay. For Whedon, his pay day is just a few weeks away.
Still, for genre fans (Nerd Bastards included), I think The Cabin in the Woods is a must see.