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'The Cabin in the Woods' Movie Review

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

By

'The Cabin in the Woods' movie poster
© Lionsgate
The road that led to the release of the horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods is almost as twisty and treacherous as the plot of the film itself. It was shot way back in the spring of 2009 and was originally slated for a February 2010 release. However, it was pushed back to January 2011 for conversion to 3-D, and when MGM declared bankruptcy, it was pulled from the schedule altogether. Thankfully, in May 2011, Lionsgate took over distribution from MGM, decided not to do the whole 3-D nonsense and announced a final release date of April 2012 -- three years after it was filmed. So, the question is: was it worth the wait?

The Plot

A group of five college students -- good girl Dana (Kristen Connolly), her free-spirited friend Jules (Anna Hutchison), Jules' jock boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Curt's new teammate Holden (Jesse Williams) and smart-aleck pothead Marty (Fran Kranz) -- head out in a camper for a getaway to a "cabin in the woods" that Curt's cousin recently purchased. Ignoring the warnings of a genre-standard old local man to stay away, they head to the "old Buckner place" with the intention of partying the weekend away.

Unbeknownst to them, however, they are being watched -- and not in a "Norman Bates weirdo eyeing them through a peep hole" way. Rather, there's a clandestine, highly professional, government-esque company of workers monitoring the students with high-tech video and sound equipment. But why? That's all part of the fun. Suffice it to say, they're highly invested in getting the kids to play out the typical blood-strewn horror movie scenario and will stop at nothing to see them die a violent death.

The End Result

Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly in Cabin in the Woods

L-R: Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Kristen Connolly in 'The Cabin in the Woods'.

Photo: Diyah Pera © Lionsgate
The Cabin in the Woods is, as the kids say, "meta"; that is, it's one giant in-joke, a self-referential horror movie that knows it's a horror movie -- and knows you know it's a horror movie. It thus plays upon your genre expectations, toying with all the horror clichés we've come to know and love (or hate) -- granted, the "black guy dying first" is conspicuously unaddressed. We've got the fun-loving kids, each with his or her own individual role (virgin, slut, jock, nerd, stoner), travelling to the middle of nowhere (with no cell phone service, naturally) to stay in a creepy wooded cabin with mysterious relics in the basement. Sound familiar? It should.

But while the typical horror scenario plays out, it's all framed within the fascinating world of the "observers" who are manipulating things behind the scenes for reasons that become increasingly clear. The jarring jump between the "cabin in the woods" and the Office Space-ish corporate comedy world of the mysterious "suits" (headed by wonderful veteran character actors Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) ratchets up the humor by juxtaposing these seemingly innocuous office workers with the horrific events of a typical fright flick.

It's the sort of deconstruction of genre standards that co-writer/producer Joss Whedon made his calling card in Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- and to some extent, what co-writer/director Drew Goddard did (with less tongue in cheek) to the "Godzilla-esque giant monster movie" with his script for Cloverfield. Once revealed, the plot is actually quite ridiculous, but it's such a fun, unorthodox ride, it's hard to nitpick about any lack of sense.

Whedon's and Goddard's screenplay reads like both a love letter to horror movies and a good-natured treatise on what's wrong with them. Despite the overall comedic overtones, the horror scenes are played straightforward and not like a Scary Movie spoof, with enough gore and scares to satisfy genre fans even as the carpet is being pulled out from under them. I'd like to imagine that this film will serve as a death knell for overused horror clichés, but with few filmmakers and studios as willing to step outside the box as the ones involved here, that's surely a pipe dream.

If Cabin in the Woods doesn't reinvent horror, it at least reinvigorates it.

The Skinny

  • Acting: A- (Great comedic turns balanced by strong, straightforward horror performances.)
  • Direction: A- (On target for both the humor and the horror.)
  • Script: A (A fresh, funny stab at horror from outside the box.)
  • Gore/Effects: A- (Several grisly moments, with strong real-world makeup effects combined with solid CGI.)
  • Overall: A (An early candidate for best horror movie of the year serves notice to genre filmmakers who settle too comfortably into the standard conventions.)

The Cabin in the Woods is directed by Drew Goddard and is rated R by the MPAA for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity. Release date: April 13, 2012.

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