I’ve heard the word “overhyped” used quite a bit lately when referring to any number of horror features whether they be independent limited release, straight to DVD or VOD releases as well as full theatrically released horror pictures. I assure you that despite what you may be hearing from the cynical underbelly of the internet that horror is alive and well, that it is doing well on the big screen and the small screen and that there are movies that are not “overhyped”. The Cabin in the Woods received quite a bit of attention from horror and non-horror critics, fans and a rather impressive advertising campaign. The attention that Joss Whedon’s new horror film (and directed by virgin Drew Goddard) has received is fully earned. Its merit is unmistakable. Its impact has the potential to be more than just dollar and cents in the till of the Hollywood machine. The Cabin in the Wood is the prophesized film whose coming has been foretold to you. This isn’t the exploitation, slasher film you’ve been expecting and it certainly isn’t another kill by number epic juggernaut attack. Here’s why.
First off, spoilers and posting spoilers and ruining movies just ain’t for this guy. If you came looking for a detailed account of every kill, boob and plot twist you might as well go find the social networking site of your choosing and scan your friends updates. I’m sure somebody’s ruining The Cabin in the Woods somewhere. It just won’t be here. I hope this puts your mind at ease. I myself almost had my theatrical screening of this film ruined by a family of inconsiderate trogs who saw fit to break every taboo associated with the cinema experience. If every sexual innuendo is met with an “Uh Oh” I can assure you that your children are not old enough to be in an R rated film and neither are you. So don’t bring the family out to this one. Just because Joss Whedon created the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn’t mean this is television appropriate viewing material. It is a horror movie; quite a bit more but nothing less. So there won’t be spoilers here. No one will ruin your movie going experience here, but I urge the horror community to address the inconsiderate in the theater in some unified way. We can’t have three year old children in the movie Saw 3D. Start your brains storming now. You know damn well that I am not the MPAA’s biggest fan, but you can see plain as day from the rating summary that it contains bloody horror violence and gore (gore!) , language (not French), drug use (no doctor’ s prescription necessary) and some sexuality/nudity (Chief, don’t forget your rubbers).
The Cabin in the Woods follows a group of college kids going off into the great wilderness to a cabin where they can surely drink, screw and be merry. And then… well you know what happens right? Fornication, dismemberment.. All Hell surely must break loose given the stereotypes that you’ve seen from the television adverts thus far. “Sexual morality must be preserved”, says the smarty pants horror fans who must know about going into the woods to a remote location especially a cabin and what the “big bang” surely refers to; it’s the one that gets you splattered across the tree line. Sure does, but it’s the how and the why that are unconventional. It’s the intelligent architecture of plot that builds our familiarity with each of the protagonists. From the standpoint of the initiated this picture must be just like all the other “Don’t” movies that Edgar Wright so cleverly satirized. The plot of this movie is just as simple as the narrative you have been watching since the beginning of film, and yet this storyline is nothing like the stories you’ve been watching for years. That’s how we’ll leave it, so that you don’t see this film spoiled to doomsday. It’s too easy to give it all away. Even placing analogies to other similar films even non-horror films would give too much away. The opening sequence nearly gives it all away if you’re clever. This is what Moviefone.com is offering as a plot: “Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen.” Steep in it. Let yourself have your disbelief suspended. Take the plunge.
Joss Whedon doesn’t put out programs with weak characters especially not weak female characters. The lineup of veteran actors and newer faces all play well together and no one is left out. From Kristen Connolly as Dana, a strong willed, intelligent virgin type who should be more interested in books than boys according to every horror convention to Chris Hemsworth, fresh off the success of Thor, about to show up in the Avengers and ready to play the intelligent, athletic hero type, there’s not an actor left without development. Anna Hutchinson and Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams (that’s right Grey’s Anatomy fans) show up for competent horror acting that tests the roles of conventional horror wisdoms. Fran Kranz in particular is a comedic genius whose role as a wise stoner may have you pulling your own gravity bong out of the closet. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford might as well call themselves the odd couple of horror after their comedic, officious banter. The cast is talented. You aren’t getting the B raters that the title might suggest. When Whedon writes and produces a film you know that he’s going to play to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer formula. That’s not a strict “breakfast club” gathering of people, but it’s balanced. Not one person is necessarily your choice to be the victim. All are equally sensual and alluring and any of them could be the hero at any given moment. None of them are quite “the slayer”, but there’s definitely one that will stand out.
Fans of the Buffy series also might note after watching the movie that several major themes throughout The Cabin in the Wood come straight out of Buffy. I’m not saying which ones, but look to the first three seasons. When the powers that control meet the will of good the struggle becomes very Joss, very fast. The movie is also a veritable laugh riot playing off the preconceived notions that the title might suggest and puts a mirror up to the face of horror fans much in the same way that Scream did in the mid 90’s. Remember the 90’s? Horror was just as stagnant (or appeared very stagnant to those who weren’t looking under the surface). Along came Wes Craven with a movie that would “spoil the magician’s illusion” on all major slasher themes. You have nothing less than that type of self reflection in The Cabin in the Woods only it addresses everything from the slasher genre to our beloved Evil Dead. It’s about time we rebooted the last ten years and emphasize what is truly scary about horror. If doing that means a filmmaker has to draw upon the entire history of horror cinema than let the homages fall where they lay and let the proper respects be paid. The Cabin in the Woods brings together an amalgam of tropes that work together to strengthen each other. No one subgenre’s flaws stand out because of the alloy created by these alchemists.
At first I was underwhelmed with the special effects. Kill sequences off camera do not a happy horror movie goer. How does that even work in an R rated picture, but you’ll see how it all works. Goddard is a much more clever director than the horror fan might give him credit for. In fact he deserves quite a nod of praise. There’s gore. Yes, there’s CGI and no I’m not a fan of CGI in place of practical effects. I understand why CGI was used in this picture and give it a pass. Remember that recently I made it quite clear (in talking about Camel Spiders) that the only movies that could feature CGI acceptably were Corman movies and SyFy originals. Well this ain’t either one of those, but somehow it makes absolute sense to couple CitW with that crowd. One thing I always look for in a horror film is the contrast between the color chosen for blood and skin tone. Does the blood stand out or is it a dark, black splatter that might as well be mud. Is it Crayola? If it’s Crayola is it an H.G. Lewis movie? There was a great deal of time taken to ensure that the blood is vivid and beautiful. You feel like your staring at the equivalent of B&W film at times only you’re staring at pale skin and Type A. Not my favorite practical effects team, but it gets the job done, and with a story this large, this bold, the CGI will get a pass from this critic.
I won’t ruin the one liners for you, but you’re going to have a new vocabulary of naughty sayings when this film is done. I won’t ruin who or what the killer/killers might be, but when the plot unfolds you’ll thank me for my discretion. One thing I encourage all of you to do is to go see this movie, this weekend before the spoilers have their way with you. I want you to go out there and see it and tell others what you’ve seen, but not WHAT you’ve seen. Avoid reviews (even if you didn’t avoid this one). Tell your friends to avoid reviews, but to come back and read this one after they’ve seen it. Let me know if this is a fair account of the movie with all secret things kept for ticket buyers. When we say go out and support horror movies in the theater, horror movies you’d want to see in the theater, this is it. Use your money as a vote for The Cabin in the Woods and the type of movie it represents. Remember that if you only make minimum wage you worked two hours to pay for your ticket. You’re paying to keep a secret. You’re paying to learn the secret.