The Cabin in the Woods (2012) / Horror-Comedy

MPAA rated : R for strong bloody violence, gore, drug use, language, and some sexuality and nudity
Running time: 95 min.

Cast: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker
Small role: Sigourney Weaver

Director: Drew Goddard
Screenplay: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Review published January 22, 2014

The Cabin in the Woods is the kind of movie that works best the less you know about it going in. For that reason, I'd recommend skipping my review until after you've seen it if you're at all interested in such things as campy horror flicks (especially if you find most ridiculously formulaic), satirical romps, or just are enamored of the writing of Joss Whedon (Serenity, Atlantis: The Lost Empire).

Originally shot in 2009, "LOST" and Cloverfield scribe Drew Goddard directs a script by himself and Joss Whedon which deconstructs the archetypical horror sub-genre popularized by such films as The Evil Dead.  It features your average clan of 20-somethings encountering a remote cabin in an isolated wooded area. In this case, a group of five friends -- bookish Dana (Connolly, The Bay), jock Curt (Hemsworth, Thor), lusty Jules (Hutchison, Jungle Fury), hunky nerd Holden (Williams, The Butler), and stoner Marty (Kranz, Rise: Blood Hunter) -- head out to the cabin where they carouse, play games, and get high. Unbeknownst to them, they are being monitored and messed with at all times by off-site lab techs for reasons that aren't immediately clear. When they travel down to the basement, they end up inadvertently triggering a family of zombies to life. Thought it is seemingly random, it's all part of a grand design by their hosts, who unleash a variety of perils at whomever is inhabiting the cabin at other times.

While The Cabin in the Woods is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of delivering laughs, scares or thrills, it manages to be a cut above most horror satires through its clever premise and abundant imagination. The cast is colorful, though, as they are knowingly playing for stereotype, can be inherently annoying.  Fans of Whedon, of course, love his perpetual insistence on hip, snarky banter at all times, but there's always a tinge of smugness to the way these characters are written that will likely irk those who aren't already decidedly on board.

This clever film is sometimes too clever for its own good.  Though the lampooning of the "cabin"-type horror films is fully explored, for some reason, Goddard and Whedon decide to also spoof J-horror films like Ringu as well.   The final third of the film sees a scare movie unhinged, and contains a plethora of references to well-known horror staples, though Goddard seems to think that merely referencing the films that horror fans enjoy will be enough to please them; without being in on the joke, there's not as much entertainment if watching this as a straight horror-comedy.

To a certain extent, I wish that the film would have borrowed a page from the similarly plotted The Truman Show by not giving up the goods as to what kind of film it is right off the bat, as it might have been more interesting to think the film were just another dumb example of the genre only for major revelations to occur later as the characters begin to be aware themselves.  I don't mind films that are meta, but in this case, it might have been much more fun to go into the actual spooks with no awareness that the rug is about to be pulled out from under us throughout, rather than nodding and winking from the start that there's more at play to what we're about to see.

The Cabin in the Woods is worth a look as a wildly new, self-aware spin on a tired subgenre of films, though its unevenness in tone and scattershot laughs may only sate the intended audience fully, namely, horror fans who don't mind the lack of actual scares in exchange for high-concept genre in-jokes, and, of course, devout Whedonites.  The surprises in the screenplay are enough to keep the plot from getting too bogged down, and the knowing barbs skewering formula horror flicks justify the trip to yet another cabin in the woods for at least one more go around.

 Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo