Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's THE CABIN IN THE WOODS defies explanation. Not because it is difficult to describe – I could lay out the premise right now, and it wouldn’t take any time at all. But that would be doing a complete disservice to anyone reading the review who hadn't seen the movie, and my job is to talk about it without spoiling the wonderful surprises within. No, CABIN IN THE WOODS defies explanation because the joys of the movie are best discovered in the darkness of the theater, and honestly, the best reviews for this movie are probably only a few words long, and end in GO SEE IT RIGHT NOW. It’s not a puzzle box movie – there’s nothing here that’s difficult to figure out. No, what makes this movie so terrific is that it stimulates the mind while delivering visceral scares and witty humor. It’s everything SCREAM was in the 1990s, but THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is far, far superior to that film.
The general conceit of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS revolves around a shift in perspective. Every horror film you’ve seen is mere preparation for the ideas and images that Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon provide. Sure, you could start at EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN as a sort of primer. In fact, if there’s one film that you should probably see above all others before you see CABIN, it’s that one, because it sets the flavor for the main course. But almost any horror movie will do in a pinch. The film’s first image is disconcerting because it’s completely without a frame of reference, as we see two office workers (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) going to their daily job. Meanwhile a group of college kids are heading to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun and debauchery - nothing that we haven't seen before in a million other horror films. But how these two worlds collide is where much of the fun of the movie resides, and to say more than that would be completely hateful of me. I’ve already said too much.
What Goddard and Whedon have done here, like Kevin Williamson did with SCREAM, is make THE CABIN IN THE WOODS a commentary on the horror genre, but it’s so much more than that. SCREAM hasn’t dated well – there are clever moments but too many jump scares spoil the broth. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, on the other hand, rewards multiple viewings even more because once you understand the themes and concepts behind the movie, the plot becomes even more intricate and detailed. I looked hard to find gaps in the armor of the plot and I couldn’t find any. It’s well thought out, and well written – Joss Whedon is known for his clever dialogue, and CABIN is no exception. Unfortunately to quote anything would spoil the movie. But CABIN is very, very funny.
Some of the imagery in CABIN IN THE WOODS is iconic, because frankly, the movie shows fans something they’ve wanted to see since sitting down to their favorite horror films of their youth. One scene in particular, which I can’t describe in any kind of detail, will make any horror fan want to stand up and cheer. While CABIN isn’t awash in gore, it doesn’t waste it either, and Drew Goddard has fun unleashing his and Whedon’s vision on an unsuspecting audience.
If there are any complaints about the movie, it’s that the kids are one-note, but they’re supposed to be. Each of them has their job to fulfill and do it admirably. Chris Hemsworth, who filmed this movie before THOR, does a good job of putting a pin in the balloon of the jock douchebag stereotype, and Fran Kranz does good work as the resident druggie who might have something the rest of the kids don’t have in regards to the strange events that occur in the movie.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was shelved for a couple of years during MGM’s bankruptcy before Lionsgate picked it up, and while it’s a movie that should have been released sooner, the fact that it’s coming now is cause for celebration. There are movies that shake the horror genre up from time to time – PSYCHO, THE EXORCIST, HALLOWEEN, and yes, even SCREAM – and while only time will tell if CABIN IN THE WOODS is worthy of being mentioned with those classics, it is original and genuine in a way that most horror films haven’t achieved in a long time. If CABIN IN THE WOODS wound up somehow as The Last Horror Film Ever Made, well, that would be completely appropriate.
The best horror filmmaking has always been risky and pushed boundaries, but what CABIN IN THE WOODS does is something of a miracle in genre film – it makes you look at everything you’ve seen so far in the genre in a different light. Whether or not any filmmakers can live up to the challenge thrown down by THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is uncertain, and frankly there are many filmmakers who won’t be up for it. They’ll follow the same old bland patterns that have permeated much of American horror filmmaking – playing it safe, going for the PG-13, and pulling their punches.
While CABIN IN THE WOODS isn’t overly graphic or horrifying, the ideas that it has are rich and full of depth, and there are so many of them that one could take one of them out of the movie and make their own movie out of it. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is the smartest horror film I’ve seen in years, and those people who bring something to the party will have a terrific time. This review is vague for a reason, and while you might be frustrated with the lack of good solid information about the movie, you’ll thank me once you see it. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon aren’t afraid to take risks and leave the audience scrambling to keep up, but the end result is a genuinely original movie in a genre that has been full of copycats for far too long.