You think you know the story.
Sometimes, you see a movie so different and utterly unique that it defies a specific genre or categorization. The Cabin in the Woods, the well-reviewed and long-awaited — the movie was filmed in 2009 — “horror” film written by Joss Whedon (The Avengers), is that movie.
Starring a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth and a cast of other relative unknowns, Whedon’s film takes every tired, overused, and utterly drab horror cliche and turns it on its head — sometimes literally.
The movie starts just as its cookie-cutter film studio description states: Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for.
The whole set-up is one horror movie cliche after another, starting with the characters. There is Curt (Hemsworth), the jock; Jules (Anna Hutchison), the whore; Holden (Jesse Williams), the brains — and the minority; Marty (Fran Kranz), the stoner; and Dana (Kristen Connolly), the virgin. They take off in an RV for the weekend, off to Curt’s cousin’s newly purchased cabin, which happens to be located in the tree-shrouded, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere woods.
They stop for gas at an abandoned gas station, where they meet a seedy and suspicious old man who seemingly foreshadows their imminent doom. But why care for his crazy opinion? The group continues on their journey, arrives at the cabin, and begins to party the weekend away. Sounds pretty typical so far, right?
Well, that’s where the cookie-cutting ends and the game-changing begins. Unfortunately, to write a review of the film past this point is to spoil the movie, as there is really no way to write a review of the story points without giving away the best pieces of the film. This is to the film’s credit; it’s so good that I want to tell you all about it, but at the same time, it’s so good that I want you to witness it for yourself.
I think where The Cabin in the Woods succeeds so glowingly, for me, is that it cleverly deconstructs the horror genre as we know it. There are certain things that you know will happen in the movie, but when those things happen, they are never quite in the way that you imagined them. Whedon and director Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) indulge in and rearrange every imaginable horror film trope, turning a very stale genre into a suddenly fresh and interesting slate of possibilities. These tired cliches become fresh and fun, with new life breathed into them and the dust shook off.
Even better is that this film is very self-aware, and ultimately, very clever as well. The Cabin in the Woods realizes how over-the-top outrageous it is. Not only do Whedon and Goddard embrace that, they wholeheartedly invite us to laugh in the face of the picture that they just made. And, frankly, the film is better off because of that.
For those who love slasher flicks and the gore that they possess, you are in for a treat; there is plenty of mayhem to be found here, with chainsaws and axes and knives and guns and teeth and beartraps and beasts and zombies and every single horror trope, trick, and gambit under the sun. It’s shocking that this film’s budget is as small as $30 million, but even more impressive is that despite all the blood and guts, gore is not the face of this movie. Wit, self-awareness, and laughs define this film just as much as its scares do.
The Cabin in the Woods is a full-on horror genre deconstruction, an excellent mixture of chills, thrills, humor, and wit, and it can all be owed to the excellent screenplay and execution by the master, Joss Whedon. If you’ve ever sat through a crappy horror movie — that is, if you’ve seen any horror movies in the last 20 or 30 years — then you should be able to enjoy this film.
The Cabin in the Woods is a film that could very well find itself a place on my end of the year best-of list. Assuming it survives through the contentious summer, of course.
The Cabin in the Woods: A