The Cabin in the Woods
Director : Drew Goddard
Screenplay : Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2012
Stars : Kristen Connolly (Dana), Chris Hemsworth (Curt), Anna Hutchison (Jules), Fran Kranz (Marty), Jesse Williams (Holden), Richard Jenkins (Sitterson), Bradley Whitford (Hadley), Brian White (Truman), Amy Acker (Lin), Tim De Zarn (Mordecai), Tom Lenk (Ronald The Intern), Dan Payne (Mathew Buckner), Jodelle Ferland (Patience Buckner), Dan Shea (Father Buckner), Maya Massar (Mother Buckner), Matt Drake (Judah Buckner)
Delayed by nearly two years due to financial troubles at MGM, Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods has finally arrived in all its meta-horror glory, much to the delight of knowing genre fans who will, no doubt, enjoy chewing on every grisly bone tossed their way. The details of the film’s storyline are deliberately vague at the beginning although the concept is clearly postmodern in its design, and much of the fun is trying to figure out how the story’s two seemingly disparate yet obviously interconnected parts fit together. One half of the film involves a quintet of college students taking a weekend break at the titular cabin in the woods, while the other half involves a group of … well, we’re not sure exactly who they are, but they occupy a large, technically sophisticated underground lair where they watch the activity in the cabin via hidden cameras and have a lot of stake in manipulating what transpires.
The screenplay by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and Goddard, who is making his directorial debut after penning Matt Reeves’s Cloverfield (2008), is like a senior thesis about the modern horror genre masquerading as a movie. Like Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) and its various progeny, the film’s postmodern thrills rely heavily on the audience’s knowledge of the genre and understanding of the “rules” by which it operates. Of course, this creates an inherent tension within the film, as playful deconstruction of the familiar requires an almost rote recreation of that very familiarity. Thus, the real weakness in Cabin in the Woods is the horror movie within the horror movie, in which the college students do what all college students do, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to The Evil Dead (1982): They wander haplessly to their own dooms, thinking they are out for a good time. Whedon and Goddard provide us with a fairly generic cross-section of young twentysomethings, all of whom fit (necessarily, as it turns out) into a pre-cut mold: nice girl Dana (Kristen Connolly), bad girl Jules (Anna Hutchison), Jules’s jock boyfriend Curt (pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth), new friend Holden (Jesse Williams), and single stoner/paranoid conspiracy buff Marty (Fran Kranz).
The activity going on in the underground lair, which resembles a cross between a nuclear reactor and a television control room, is a lot more interesting, particularly the banter between Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), who are plain-looking white-collar types who appear to be running the show. Cryptic comments about similar happenings in other countries, an office-wide pool about an important occurrence in the cabin, and the clearly bothered countenance of Truman (Brian White), a new security guard, all point to something devious—but what? Careful viewers will pick up on some obvious connections between the two parts of the film pretty quickly, but I would wager that virtually no one will foresee exactly where it’s headed, even if you correctly guess who dies and who doesn’t. Astute horror fans will recognize that none of this is particularly new, as horror film have been tweaking the “rules” for decades now, even within otherwise straightforward genre efforts that have no real stake in deconstructing anything.
Where Cabin in the Woods pulls away from other efforts is in the sheer grandiosity of its intentions, as it somehow moves from the simplicity of nubile youth pursued in the dark of the woods by violent fiends to an all-out monster mash that seeks nothing less than a frenzied synthesis of every possible source of fear the genre has to offer. It has some genuinely startling moments, a few good scares, plenty of gore, and one compellingly weird truth-or-dare moment when Jules makes out with a mounted wolf’s head in a way that is deeply creepy and erotic at the same time. It’s too bad, though, that for all its cleverness and out-of-left-field weirdness, the film ultimately falls back on some hackneyed conventions, including the character who you think is dead but isn’t and the last-minute cameo by someone to literally explain everything we’ve been seeing. Of course, one could argue that, in a pomo soup like Cabin the Woods, the very presence of such trite devices is their own critique, which makes one’s appreciation of the film as much of a puzzle as the film itself.
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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