REVIEW: The Cabin in the Woods [2012]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: April 13th, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Lionsgate
Director(s): Drew Goddard
Writer(s): Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard

“He has the husband bulge”

After reading all the Twitter hoopla and angry comments about spoilers, I thought The Cabin in the Woods was going to have some amazing, unforeseen twist to do more than just bend genres like we all knew it would. I made sure to avoid all reviews and news, retaining my fresh, untainted mind that yearned to be excited, perplexed, and possibly even confused. And then the opening scene rendered any ideas of being kept in the dark moot as Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), Hadley (Bradley Whitford), and Lin (Amy Acker) graced the screen in lab coats when I assumed I’d meet co-eds packing for a carefree weekend in the deep dark woods. There is no third act reveal or twist as Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard simply made a very good movie by ignoring their genre’s constraints.

Maybe the way in which these disparate halves connect could be considered a spoiler, though. I’ll give the crazed call for media censorship the benefit of the doubt there despite a trailer deliberately showing its hand as if to tell the world, “Watch me on my own merits”. Considering the film was shelved for over two years due to a studio’s lack of confidence in audiences ‘getting’ it—the girls in our row definitely proved this reasoning sound—maybe Lionsgate wanted to subvert the ruse and give a few answers beforehand. By alluding to the science fiction underpinnings, they could plant the seed early to avoid an Unbreakable moment of panic where audience members wonder if they went into the wrong theatre (my lack of knowing that one’s comic book parallels definitely gave me pause).

Like another M. Night Shyamalan flick—The Village—however, the ‘twist’ here is merely a fact of the storytelling. You either accept where Goddard and Whedon go by buying into its morality tale or you scratch your head and scream that its most important revelation is stupid and it should have stuck with the horror. But it’s not a horror flick, it only uses those tropes to tell its own story the way it wants to be told. Sometimes I think ‘spoilers’ may actually enhance likeability because saying there’s more than meets the eye only sets up for a fail. If people knew what they were getting into beforehand, they may accept it easier because preconceptions won’t be formed by guesswork. So many hated The Village because it was a ‘crappy horror film’. If audiences knew it was actually more a romantic thriller earlier, they might have watched it with an open mind and saw it for the masterpiece I believe it to be.

I’d love to therefore shatter all barriers and give up the hidden connections within The Cabin in the Woods without remorse. It’s not much of a secret anyway when the characters we aren’t supposed to talk about are the first ones we see. Perhaps I only feel this way because I saw it, though. It’s possible that finding out the truth beforehand would have ruined that experience. I’ll never know. Instead I’ll kowtow to the status quo by keeping as much of the actual plot as I can shrouded beneath run-of-the-mill surface tropes hiding double meanings and openly declare that I had a blast on every level of its rather unique puzzle. It’s immensely witty—like most Whedon—and never oversteps by pushing one genre to the side in lieu of another. No, the scary parts remain serious and dire while the fun, laugh-out-loud moments only enhance the fear rather than subdue.

We’re given our whore (Anna Hutchison‘s Jules), athlete (Chris Hemsworth‘s Curt), scholar (Jesse Williams‘ Holden), fool (Fran Kranz), and virgin (Kristen Connolly) knowing few if any will survive what’s to come. Sex is bandied about and pretty people pair off with pretty people while Kranz gets high and spouts conspiracy paranoia. A creepy watchman figure (Tim De Zarn) all but tells them they will die and yet they soldier on like the immortal youths they think they are. While not exactly the stereotypical molds described, something helps transform and lead them along their path to destruction. A dark basement of horror paraphernalia soon brings zombies, ghosts, and monsters, letting fans of the genre rejoice from copious blood and dismembered body parts. Please just open your minds to the possibility of real meaning in these deaths.

It’s difficult not to say more when the interactions between Jenkins, Whitford, Acker, and Brian White are the highlight of the film, but I don’t want to be the one to ruin a great movie for you. Not to say the college kids aren’t effective—all play their roles nicely with Kranz and Connolly given the most to do—we simply know what to expect with them and don’t where the other half is concerned. The world of The Cabin in the Woods is much larger than first impressions suggest and while it’s easy to dismiss the intricacies as unnecessary, I implore you to them a chance. You won’t be disappointed if you can buy into the premise.

It’s hard to believe one wouldn’t want the humor and all-out insanity of the final act, but those looking for more Friday the 13th type scares will be disappointed. The finish comes off a bit contrived in its quest to show humankind’s selfishness, but I still love how it ended despite wishing the journey there went differently. This is an inventive world crafted by uncommon storytelling and a wonderful breath of fresh air to an otherwise stale genre. It’s so fresh that I probably would have given it four stars two years ago when first announced for release. But whether time has the ability to date the unique or not, it can’t prevent it from still being a fantastic gem of a film.

[1] From left to right: Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Dana (Kristen Connolly) in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Photo credit: Diyah Pera
[2] Dana (Kristen Connolly) and Holden (Jesse Williams) in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Photo credit: Diyah Pera
[3] Sitterson (Richard Jenkins, left), Lin (Amy Acker, center) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford, right) in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Photo credit: Diyah Pera

4 Thoughts to “REVIEW: The Cabin in the Woods [2012]”

  1. Jared Cain

    Great review Jared. I saw it last night with my fiancé…I loved it, she hated it. I’m still convinced she didn’t really get it or doubly didn’t care. She kept recalling the bad acting and saw it more as a satire of stereotypical horror. Though I wanted her to like it I guess I wasn’t surprised. Keep up the good work.

    1. thanks, man. yeah, i liked it a lot. i think my girlfriend liked it more than i as she really dug the theme of choice running throughout. i liked that aspect but felt it became too strong in the second act, making it more contrived than maybe it had to be.

      it was a satire of sorts and i thought that made it even better when everything turned on its head and became legitimate after the reveal was cemented. Whedon is tough, though—been watching Buffy and Angel lately—because i feel his style makes it appear like bad acting, but that feel only proves the nuance and precision.

      it’ll be interesting to see what that style does to The Avengers …

  2. Lauren

    Despite my desperate attempts to see it in the theater, my inability to see a movie alone kept me from this one. Alas, I do not have many (or any, actually) friends who enjoy this genre.

    After watching the preview the first time, I immediately wrote the movie off. For some reason it conjured up memories of Halloween Resurrection and Exam. I am not sure why, but it did. Then I read the reviews and heard the hype and thought there might be more to it.

    I read your review with the hopes of getting a better idea of what the movie was about but, for better or worse, you were quite elusive. However, I know you are a tough critic so I will trust your judgement and rent the movie first chance I get!

    1. i will say this, despite the amount of blood and horror involved, don’t be surprised by both the humor and science fiction/supernatural elements at play. knowing and appreciating Whedon’s work is probably a plus, but even if you don’t like the comedy and the underlying “secret”—the opening scene will reveal what it is—the more standard horror tropes should satisfy you.

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