Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods
By Matthew Huntley
April 25, 2012
If you know nothing about The Cabin in the Woods, keep it that way. You may even want to skip this review, for the movie’s intrigue hinges on the audience’s ignorance. During the first two-thirds, we wonder where it’s taking us, which keeps things fun and engaging. It’s enough to warrant seeing the movie at least once, although I’m not sure a second viewing would ever be necessary.
The movie is a bold and somewhat risky entry in the horror genre. It’s not completely original, although elements of it are, and it has an irreverent attitude we don’t expect but certainly welcome. In fact, the movie is full of unexpected developments, linked together by underlying humor and social commentary. I suppose these qualities aren’t all that shocking given the co-writer is Joss Whedon, who specializes in combining the macabre with the subversive, not to mention the unpredictable. He and his writing partner, Drew Goddard, who doubles as the film’s director, have concocted a twisted story that flips a lot of what we anticipate from horror onto its head, and we’re grateful for it.
Like most horror movies, this one follows a group of young people, each in college, venturing on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods. Of course, the cabin is out in the middle of nowhere and there’s nobody else around for miles in case any type of emergency or carnage should take place, unless you count the creepy gas station attendant (Tim De Zarn), who likes to spit and insult people. Did I mention there’s also a lake? Any dark, dank cabin in the woods isn’t complete without one.
The movie knows these college kids make up a typical horror movie hit-list, although it never overtly comments on it (the screenplay is too smart and sophisticated to state the obvious). There’s the over-sexed jock (Chris Hemsworth) and his equally horny girlfriend (Anna Hutchison); the pure and innocent heroine (Kelly Connolly); the intellectual (Jesse Williams); and the comedic pot-smoker (Fran Kranz), who begins to hear things and gradually suspects he and his friends are being watched.
And indeed he and his friends are being watched, for this no ordinary cabin they’re staying in. It’s being monitored by a secret underground company for reasons I wouldn’t dare reveal. Let’s just say two of the company’s technicians (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) start hedging bets over how the aforementioned characters will die.
That’s all I can really say without giving too much away. Fortunately the movie cares less about scaring us with its campy horror antics and more about arousing our curiosity with its twisted plot. In fact, the filmmakers treat the gruesome violence as “been there, done that” material, which it is, and instead focus on the characters trying to decipher what’s happening around them, all while making absurd revelations. But because the whole situation is so bizarre, yet handled with such panache, we can’t help but go along with it.
Once the movie unearths all of its secrets, the excitement of The Cabin in the Woods deflates a bit and it settles in for a violent conclusion that’s not quite as smart or captivating as its setup. It doesn’t spiral down in any bad way; it’s just the second half isn’t as momentous as the first, and given what we already experienced, I was hoping for a payoff that was more biting and meaningful. In other words, despite my knowing what’s already going to happen, I was looking for something to encourage me to go back and watch it all over again, and not just to piece everything back together. As it is, the movie mostly feels like an exercise in patience and misdirection. Granted, it’s a clever and often ballsy exercise, but an exercise nonetheless. Still, it’s one you can appreciate in the moment for its craft, wit and deception, even if it is short-lived.