Generally, when horror fans hear the phrase “cabin in the woods,” they either get psyched, prepping themselves for a fun, forested fuck n’ filet fest orchestrated by a hack-happy maniac/ill-explained demonic force/crew of inbred bastards, or roll their eyes in absolute abhorrence. Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, the new Avengers) and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) may have finally found a way to forge a disturbing peace between the two camps with their new film, The Cabin in the Woods.
The “Oversexed kids go on a weekend getaway to get off, but end up getting offed!” genre has be hacked to pieces over the last 30 years, thanks to bad sequels (paging Mrs. Voorhees and son!), remakes (see: the new Evil Dead reboot) and low budget/high gore indies (Hatchet). If you take The Cabin in the Woods for its spoiler-free plot summary—a group of college students (Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson, Jesse Williams, Fran Kranz and Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth) head to a you-know-what for the weekend and killer chaos ensures!—it sounds like yet another stale addition to the genre. In truth, it’s a substantial, subversively sexy smoochie to those who know those films like Billy Loomis got to know Casey’s insides.
The Cabin the Woods feels like a cool cousin to the Scream series. It targets our expectations of it
(and all other films like it), like flesh-eating disease, embodying them only to slaughter them (lovingly) from within. I won’t get too specific—no twist reveals here!—but this includes playfully eschewing the genre “rules” (who says virgins have to live?) and shucking off the scary for the howlingly hilarious in under two seconds.
I’m sure Cabin will turn off Whedonverse virgins and horror comedy haters, those came for blood and boobs and no brains. They may be drawn in by the purposely broad characters, though. Kranz is infinitely likeable as Marty, the Shaggy-Xander hybrid of this doomed Scooby gang, Unfortunately, he loses too much screen time to Connolly’s supposed survivor girl and Velma-Willow, Dana. Aside from Richard Jenkins (Let Me In) and Bradley Whitford (TV’s The West Wing), who play a pair possible villains, the acting in the film isn’t anything to write home on Crystal Lake stationary about. But that may have been intentional…
What Cabin ought to be applauded for is its script, a product of well-researched originality, genuine passion and fanboyish wit which picks up where Buffy left off (at times, it even seems like the alternate ending for Season 4). The quippy dialogue and clever twists cut like a freshly-sharpened butcher knife, gnawing away at the best and worst parts of the current horror climate and hitting bones struck (but not severed) by last year’s Scream 4.
For that alone, this Cabin deserves a spot next to the underrated straight-to-DVD masterpiece Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon in the modern slasher satire trophy case. Or at least one visit. A
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. Directed by Drew Goddard. 96 minutes. 18A