Searching for a weekend retreat, five young men and women travel to an old cabin, far from the reaches of civilization. Little do they know that a mysterious force is at work in the house, ready to threaten their lives. Does that sound very familiar? Just wait. At the same time, two men who seem to have knowledge of the cabin arrive at a strange facility an unknown distance away. Who are these men? What is their job? These questions and more are answered in the film The Cabin in the Woods.
The best advice I can give for people who want to watch The Cabin in the Woods is to know as little as possible before you see it, so I’m trying to avoid spoilers in this review. I can say that, while the original premise of the film intentionally uses a cliche where the main characters are isolated from the outside world, the movie quickly moves beyond the concept and into richer territory. The size of the story keeps growing until it has a scope far larger than any other horror film I’ve seen. Although I did want to watch the movie again immediately after finishing it the first time, I do think a big part of the initial experience is the excitement of discovering the truth behind the cabin and that can be ruined if you know too much about the story before seeing the film.
The Cabin in the Woods was directed by Drew Goddard, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Joss Whedon. If you’ve read my review of the Avengers you know how much I love the works of Joss Whedon. He knows how to tell a story like few other writers do, adding wit and humour to his shows and films without diffusing the weight and power of his dramatic moments. Whedon’s talent is clearly at work in Cabin, but one cannot disregard the talent of Goddard as well. Goddard not only worked on Whedon’s television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but also some great episodes for two of my other favourite shows, Alias and Lost. With these two fantastic filmmakers collaborating on The Cabin in the Woods, it’s no wonder that the film turned out so good.
Whedon and Goddard designed The Cabin in the Woods to work both as a standard horror movie and as a satire of the genre, which was a challenge to accomplish, but they succeeded. Some viewers of horror films are quickly exasperated by the illogical decisions made by the characters or the story elements that are overused within the genre. Cabin finds humour in these tropes and offers explanations within the story. If you’ve ever been frustrated by the weak storytelling of horror movies, you can find comfort in the film’s take on the genre. On the other hand, if you simply enjoy horror movies as they are, The Cabin in the Woods is entertaining in this regard as well.
Of course, the fact that The Cabin in the Woods can act as a regular horror film does come with its own set of problems. The film is tame compared to other recent horror movies, such as the Saw or Hostel films, but it does have enough violence and gore to turn away certain squeamish viewers. In addition, some of the characters who act out the cliches of the genre are by necessity not developed as well as others. The best and most complex characters of the film turn out to be the ones who satirize the horror genre the most: Fran Kranz, who also appeared in Whedon’s show Dollhouse and his upcoming film version of Much Ado About Nothing, plays a stoner named Marty who regularly points out the absurdity of the situation at the same time he tries to survive it; Kristen Connolly plays Dana, a girl who transcends her stereotypical role in the horror film; Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) appear as the mysterious men who control the fate of the young people in the cabin, bringing a dark humour to the film while referencing certain horror tropes.
The Cabin in the Woods is an well-designed and entertaining film that revives a stale premise. The movie satisfies with a variety of humourous and surprising moments, but there is a deeper meaning to all of it. The movie leaves you asking many questions: What is the nature of humanity? Why do we watch horror films? Is it evil to find entertainment in the deaths of characters? These philosophical questions combined with such an entertaining story make The Cabin in the Woods one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen and one of the best movies of 2012. I give the film a 5 out of 5. Watch the trailer for the film below: