I have a confession my dear readers: Horror films as a genre have been declining for years now. While I’ve said the same about everything from action films to comedies, the horror genre bears a marked decline even most of the general population can’t deny. And why would they? Over the last decade or so, the genre that once spawned a diverse and varied carnival of horrors (the best of which can be seen here) has been reduced to one largely of gory CGI torture porn or ‘based on a true story’ found footage films, with both dominated by strings of sequels or remakes. As a result, the craft has suffered greatly, the scares and screams once to be found gone, and genre fans like me left with the classics and hope for a return of the golden years of the genre.
Cabin in the Woods may well be that film. One of a number of films that was made before the MGM bankruptcy, which will finally be released this year along with The Three Stooges, Skyfall, and Red Dawn (unless North Korea is considered too controversial as a villain), it has been on my radar for a number of reasons. First of course, being that the dynamic duo of Joss Whedon and his apprentice Drew Goddard, are producing, writing and directing the film – talk from the man behind Buffy and Firefly about revitalizing the horror genre was enough for me to pay attention. In addition, wild rumors of what the film is about have ranged between a pchycological horror about government manipulation of the populace to a musical comedy cabin-slasher. Of course, one of the boons of having the film delayed more than three years is that much of the then greenhorn cast has since proven themselves more than skilled at thier craft (Among others, this, along with Red Dawn, was meant to be what introduced people to Chris Hemsworth, not Thor). Needless to say, as soon as I saw the trailer, it was enough to sell me on a ticket.
So is this the long awaited revival of the horror genre, or should you do what the countless protagonists of such films should have done and stayed home? Pack your bags and watch out for machetes, as I review The Cabin in the Woods.
Our story opens to a story quite familiar to the genre: five friends, each a blatant stereotype (jock, geek, slut, stoner and sympathetic audience stand-in) head out for a weekend in the jock’s cousin’s new cabin, located off the grid in a pristine and isolated forest – a cabin with a dark secret hiding beneath them, guiding and manipulating our protagonists to a gruesome and orchestrated end.
For those who want more detail than that, you’ll have to go see the movie, because I’m not kidding when I say if I say much more I will be giving a great deal of the film away. Part of it involves the group you see brief glimpses of in the trailer, part of it involves the loads of meta humor and references, and a lot revolves around what may be the most brilliant story in the horror genre in decades. Rest assured though, the film manages to be a brillaint film in its own right, a salute to the horror films of the past, and a loud condemnation of genre stagnation, and does this all at once.
In addition to a brilliant story and script, the acting is perhaps the best I’ve seen in a horror film in years, and easily stands up to most films outside of the genre on its own as well. All of the cast manage to play both to and against genre tropes and cliches, and do so brilliantly. Chris Hemsworth is great as our jock Curt, Fran Kranz is shockingly poignant as the stoner Marty, and newcomer Kristen Connolly is bound for bigger roles based on her performance as our virgin/audience stand-in Dana. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are utterly brilliant in a pair of roles that, due to spoilers, I cannot reveal. Much the same, toward the crescendo of the climax, there will be a cameo worth remembering.
Much like the story and acting, there is a great deal of the cinematography and special effects I can’t give away without revealing too much about the movie. Rest assured, the special effects are well done, and a joy to look at. One thing worth special note is the movie is filled with meta humor and references – try and catch em all, there’s stuff from Hellraiser to Creature from the Black Lagoon, and even a few from Firefly. About the one complaint I have is the movie isn’t too scary. While that may be due to the fact I’m a grizzled genre veteran, it might be because the film focuses more on plot details and humor, meta and otherwise, and I can’t really say the film suffers for it.
I’ll confess, seeing as there is so much potential for spoilers here, I’m not really free to say much about the movie – aside from that YOU NEED TO SEE IT. Fans of the genre will be pleased by both the salute and countless references to old horror films, while standing proudly on its own. Moviegoers will get thrills and chills from a horror movie that is frightening in concept and satire and is entertaining as a whole, if not in particularly terrifying. It’s one part Scream, one part Evil Dead, and a whole lot of fun and brilliance sandwiched in between.
The Cabin in the Woods is a horror movie about horror movies that manages to be fun, creative, witty, and scary, and at times, all at once. I’d honestly say it is my favorite movie of the year so far, Hunger Games and Chronicle be damned, and if you take a trip to this cabin, you won’t regret it – and it certainly won’t be one you’ll forget.