The Cabin in the Woods Movie Review
When you think about movies that are overrun with cliché and stereotypes, there are few genres that stand out more than horror films. Whether a monster movie (creature feature) or taut thriller, the genre of horror has recently played out primarily as a group of sequels and remakes – as though the last 20 years have produced so little ingenuity that we can’t think of any better stories. My least favorite of these types of films are (sometimes casually) referred to as torture porn… movies like HOSTEL or the SAW franchise. This type of movie generally has more than its fair share of blood with less than its respective share of story. Knowing all of this, it would seem certain that the most recent entry into the horror genre (and haunted cabin sub-genre) would follow these notes to the letter. I am happy to report that it doesn’t. In fact, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS may actually elevate and challenge filmmakers to make better, more character and dialogue driven feature films.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS starts strangely. We are introduced to three people; white collar workers at some sort of office building discussing their plans for after a long working weekend. They seem tense about what is planned. Next thing we know we’re being introduced to our main characters, Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Dana Hutchison), Dana (Kristen Connolly), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams) as they prepare for a weekend getaway. Sticking to many genre influences, the movie features primarily un- or little-known actors in key roles. In fact, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was actually shot before THOR when Hemsworth wasn’t known outside of his small role as James Kirk’s doomed father in JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK reboot.
In keeping with some traditions of the horror and cabin genre, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS intentionally plays on our own conceptions of what the movie is supposed to cover, where we are supposed to go. In so doing, the film is able to string us along, thinking we’re sure we know where things are headed… but each time we discover something simple it only unlocks more questions about this cabin and the situation in which our young heroes find themselves. As the friends start their weekend away, we learn more about each of them and the archetypes to which they have been designed and get to see their reactions as things start going sideways.
The intersecting story lines of the corporation and our college students seems so obvious, but I hesitate to go further into the plot for fear of ruining it for you. I entered THE CABIN IN THE WOODS almost blindly, having read only a few words about the film online and in some old entertainment magazines when it was first being promoted. Thankfully those early interviews (and most of the trailers and promos) were sparse on details, leaving us to figure out the movie in much the same way our quintet is trying to unravel their situation.
The characters were each created and cast to both carry forward Whedon’s past works and to bridge to a completely new audience. The incredible casting of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the two main heads of the phantom corporation is inspired. Chris Hemsworth is a perfect jock/stud and newcomers Anna Hutchison (GO GIRLS), Kristen Connolly (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD), and Jesse Williams (a longtime player on GREYS ANATOMY) each carry the torch for their respective characterizations; equal parts homage and satire. Finally, Fran Kranz (who you’ll remember if you ever caught the short-lived but phenomenal series, DOLLHOUSE) is a great addition to the film in a role that you could almost forget if someone else had played him.
As a Joss Whedon fan (who co-wrote the script with longtime collaborator and director Drew Goddard) I am happy to report that this movie is virtually a tribute to both Whedon-fans and horror films. Despite not being directed by Whedon, the movie bares his indelible mark: clean characterizations that play with our stereotypes and flip them on their heads, great dialogue delivered brilliantly by a stellar (if unknown) cast, and complex but competent storytelling. If you are a fan of any of his/their works, this movie was lovingly crafted for you and I highly recommend it.