Cabin in the Woods
by Scott Mendelson
The problem with discussing a film like writer/director Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods is that the very things that make the movie most worth discussing are the very things that should barely be hinted at. So I will simply say that the hype and buzz are real. The script is pulpy and intelligent, so clever is the writing and so surprisingly sympathetic are the characters that I would gladly watch a more conventional 'teens go to the woods and bad stuff happens' movie with this specific cast. But as you learn within the first few minutes, there is a token twist to the seemingly generic proceedings. What that is I will not say. But I will say that what starts as something resembling a deconstruction of the last 10 years of horror films becomes a rallying cry against the sort of obsessively-anal dissection that makes up much of 'fanboy' discussion these days, often in the form of pre-release manufactured hype ("Ten clues found in the Dark Knight Rises poster... what do they MEAN?!?!"). But even if you don't feel like embracing its philosophical undertones, the picture operates in a skewed way as an endorsement of horror as a genre, both for its entertainment value and its social function as a healthy outlet for dealing with unpleasant ideas. And oh yeah, it's also a funny and scary little gem of a movie.
The film jumps back and forth between two major sets of characters, and it doles out crucial information at just the right intervals, although audiences who catch on quicker than others won't suffer for it. It also works as a mediation on something I've actually thought about quite a bit, especially when it comes to episodic television. In short, even if I'm enjoying a show, I have a tough time getting too worked up over the latest plot twist or sensational revelation. Unless there is a financial downside to making a certain plot choice (IE - if The Avengers ended with Captain America joining Loki's evil army), I no longer find the energy to scream: "I can't believe that some writer made the choice to have wholly fictional characters that are under his/her complete control act or behave in a way I find surprising or shocking!". You'll know what I mean as the film progresses, as it operates as a sort-of commentary on how much 'free will' characters living in a horror film actually have. And, without beating the idea to death, the film also openly inquires about the morality of those who would create grotesque horror scenarios in film and television as well as the morality of those of us who 'enjoy' such material even when its of a certain quality. But fear not navel-gazers, Cabin in the Woods is a genre entertainment first with any implied deeper meaning coming only after the film can be dissected. In other words, enjoy the film first, then dig a little deeper if you insist.
And my goodness is the film enjoyable. The kids, led by Kristen Connolly and Chris Hemsworth, are explicitly smarter and more thoughtful than the sort usually found in Cabin Fever-type films. The secondary set of characters (introduced in the first or second scene) are led by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, and the two of them have absolutely wonderful comic chemistry (if I may speak pruriently, I forgot how 'fond' I was of Amy Acker back when Angel was on the air). And the film delivers a third act of... I don't even want to hint at where this film goes, but it's honestly one of the most satisfying third-acts in recent memory. Even if I tell you that I found one portion of the story a little more engaging than the other for reasons that perhaps couldn't be helped, let me merely state that the set-up is absolutely worth the completely satisfying pay-off. And with that I'm going to stop now before I say something or hint at something I shouldn't. Cabin in the Woods is a wonderful piece of mainstream entertainment. It is well-acted, well-written, exciting, funny, and yes, genuinely scary. It is full of big ideas and a willingness to go-for-broke in expressing those ideas. In short, believe the hype and believe the buzz. Cabin in the Woods is everything you've heard. But hopefully you haven't heard much...