“If you hear a strange sound outside… have sex.”
If there was one thing the meltdown and subsequent bankruptcy of MGM ended doing it was shelving the Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon horror film The Cabin in The Woods for almost three years. The film was directed by Goddard who also helped co-write the screenplay with Joss Whedon and what we get is one of the smartest and most innovative horror films to come in over a decade. For fans of the tv shows Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel (not to mention Dollhouse) this horror film just reinforces the notion that Joss Whedon knows how to write smart dialogue and premises without ever getting too self-referential and deconstructionist (I’m looking at you Kevin Williamson) or too smart-talky (a stank-eye at you Aaron Sorkin).
There’s really no way to properly review The Cabin in The Woods without spoiling the films many different surprises and twists and turns. I will say that the film does a peculiar opening that focuses not on the five college students headed to the cabin in the woods of the film’s title, but on two men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in your typical office attire doing the walk and talk about family home life and the like. We see that they’re technicians in an unnamed industrial facility that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the many governmental facilities we often see in film. The film will return to these two men and their facilities and other people working within often in addition to telling the story of the five college students and the growing danger they find themselves in as night falls in the woods.
To say anymore would definitely be a spoiler.
I will continue on and say that for a horror film written to self-reference other horror film conventions and tropes what Goddard and Whedon have ultimately done was celebrate the genre itself and how much of an impact it has had in society. Unlike films like the Scream franchise, The Cabin in the Woods doesn’t knowingly wink at the audience about how cool it is for pointing out all the horror cliches and stereotypes we’ve come to expect in the horror genre. Instead the film actually treats its audience to be smart enough to see the homage to past horror films both good and bad without ever drawing attention to the fact that they’re pointed out.
Another thing which makes this film so fun to watch is how much every character in the film comes across as fully realized individuals. Even the college students who we first think of as your typical horror film stereotypes (the jock, the slut, the virgin, the brain and the stoner) end up being more than we’re led to believe. All of this actually occurs right in the beginning and this helps the audience join in on the fun that both Goddard and Whedon are having in turning the horror genre on its head right up to it’s surprising conclusion. It helps that the cast did quite a great job realizing their characters. As the film progresses we even begin to get a sense that who the villains in the film may or may not be who we think.
There’s a sense of fun and the darkly comic to the film as well. Every one-liner and comedic beats we get throughout the film doesn’t have a sense of the cynical to them. It comes across through dialogue and actions by both groups in the film in such a natural way that they never make those saying the lines break the fourth wall. Most films that try to deconstruct genre films tend to get too cutesy with the breaking the fourth wall gimmick that the audience can’t help but be pulled out of the suspension of disbelief they’ve put themselves in. This has a way of making such genre films less fun and celebratory and more of making fun of the people who enjoy such things.
The Cabin in The Woods manages that rare accomplishment of being a horror film that retains not just the horrific aspect of the genre but also add such a darkly comic sense to the whole proceeding with such a deft touch from Goddard and Whedon that we don’t know whether to call it straight horror or a horror-comedy. Some might even see the film as an entertaining treatise on the nature of the horror film genre of the last quarter-century. Both Goddard and Whedon have already called this film as their answer to the current trend of the “torture porn” that was popularized with the help of such recent horror franchises like Hostel, Saw and those made by Rob Zombie. Where those films celebrated the concept of inflicting pain not just on the characters on the screen but those who watch them with The Cabin in The Woods we finally get a reminder why we love the horror films of the past. It’s through the sense of that adrenaline rush that a tension build-up leading to a horror money shot but without becoming overly gratuitious and reveling in the pain of the horror.
Some have said that The Cabin in The Woods is the best horror film of 2012. I won’t even argue with that statement since it is true. I will put it out there that Cabin in The Woods might just be one of the best films of 2012. The film is just that fun, smart and, overall, just plain awesome.
[I usually attach a trailer to reviews but this time doing it could spoil some of the surprises in the film]