DIRECTED BY: Drew Goddard
FEATURING: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, , Bradley Whitford, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams
PLOT: Five college kids find themselves trapped inside an impossibly clichéd horror movie situation at the titular locale; if they somehow manage to survive the redneck zombies, they will still have to worry about the puppetmaster pulling the strings.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliantly deconstructed, offbeat horror movie exercise, but even with its squiggly plotline it remains a bit too normal and mainstream for us. But if you’re a horror movie fan, Cabin is the can’t miss event of the year.
COMMENTS: You’ve seen it before. That’s the point. Five young archetypes—the virginal girl, her slutty best friend, the jock, the shy regular guy, and the anti-establishment stoner comic relief guy head out to the cabin in the woods for a weekend of fornicating and imbibing heavily while playing “truth or dare.” Instead, they get chopped up into teen sausage by some hungry revenant whose slumber they’ve disturbed. If you’ve been watching horror movies in the last twenty years, you’ve also seen plenty of films where the kids trapped in the cabin are horror movie experts who know the rules of the game (this one, for example); so, when the jock says “we should split up” and the stoner looks at him incredulously and says in disbelief, “really?,” you’ve seen that before, too. That, too, is the point.
In the self-aware horror movie subgenre The Cabin in the Woods is unique in that it doesn’t just parody slaughter flick conventions, it honors them at the same time—speculating about why it’s so crucial that the slutty girl takes off her top, why the chaste chick must outlive her, and about why the killings are so formulaic and so… ritualistic. To point out that Cabin is a genuine horror flick and not a simple parody of kill conventions isn’t to say that it isn’t as blackly comic as any horror-comedy to come down the pike in recent times. Every scare flick needs a crusty old gas station owner to act as Harbinger of Doom and give the kids an unheeded warning not to poke around at the old Miller (or wherever) place. Cabin gives us a Harbinger who’s crustier than the stuff that Freddy Krueger picks out of the corners of his eyes in the morning. And while he’s slyly amusing in his over-the-top tobacco-spitting spiel, Cabin brings him back for a hilarious pure-comedy cameo that shows how hard it is for a Harbinger to get out of character even when he’s not obliquely prophesying the death of college kids.
I laughed as much at Cabin the Woods as I did at last year’s full-bore gore-comedy outing Tucker and Dale vs. Evil; but, despite its winking jokes and metafictional flirtations, Cabin works because its postmodern conceits are side dishes, not the main course. It serves us a genuine and very rare course of scares, with real stakes for characters who are not as cardboard as they first appear. Cabin also feeds us the freaky images we go to horror movies to see. The monster design is a big draw, even though the creatures are glimpsed fairly briefly. A scene of a slut making out with a stuffed wolf’s head is icily strange and erotic, there’s the ghost of a Japanese schoolgirl flitting about the edge of the plot, and the carnage of the third act is something I can guarantee you haven’t seen on film before. Cabin‘s only caveat is that it’s aimed squarely at those who are already fans of what Joe Bob Briggs used to refer to as “Spam in a cabin” movies; if you’re not familiar with the tropes, this pop-autopsy of the genre might not win you over. But good horror films are rare, and horror films with original concepts are even rarer; when you find a movie that has both, it’s worth the trek into those dark woods to check it out.
Though helmed by co-scriptwriter Drew Goddard, who acquits himself brilliantly in his first time in the director’s chair, Cabin is most notable as part of a huge year for co-writer/co-producer Joss Whedon, who will have two hit films playing in theaters simultaneously when his comic book blockbuster The Avengers debuts next week.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…starts in familiar territory, then gets delightfully strange… the most inventive cabin-in-the-woods picture since The Evil Dead and the canniest genre deconstruction since Scream.”–Christopher Orr, The Atlantic (contemporaneous)