Review: The Cabin in the Woods

by Tom Ingram

I came into The Cabin in the Woods blind, without having seen the trailer or even the poster. All I had was the title, the fact that Joss Whedon cowrote the script, and a recommendation that consisted of nothing more than “see this movie” and hints that it would contain something unexpected. That was all I needed.

Before introducing our laboriously telegraphed slasher plot, the movie opens showing a team of wisecracking scientists in an underground facility speaking cryptically about the “scenario” they’re running. Then we meet our principals: Dana, the obvious final girl who’s into economics and Soviet history, Jules, the dumb pre-med blonde, Curt and Holden, both football players, and Marty, the paranoid stoner. They’re going to spend a weekend of bacchanalia and debauchery in an isolated cabin owned by Curt’s cousin. As they leave in their RV, the camera pulls back to reveal an operative on a nearby rooftop watching them.

Later, as the kids enter a mountain tunnel, we see an eagle collide with an invisible forcefield around the area and burn up. At this point it becomes clear that we’re in for some unconventional shenanigans in the same vein as Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. [Small spoilers behind the cut.]

The difference, aside from the more supernatural focus in Cabin in the Woods, is the depth of commitment. In more or less the same amount of time, Goddard, Whedon, et al manage to take a similar concept as far as it will go, rising beyond fun cult comedy to become what will surely be a real classic.

Our heroes find themselves in the basement of the cabin, lured in by trickery triggered by the technicians from the opening scene. Down here they find several artifacts reminiscent of other horror movies and, by messing with one of them, “choose” their monster. Slashing does ensue, but (of course) it’s not that simple.

The performances from the kids are good enough, but the real fun is the monsters and the underground operatives. Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Amy Acker have great comedic chemistry as the lead scientists, who run a betting pool on the outcome of the scenario. The creatures, harkening back to various old-school movie monsters, add an element of visual chaos to one of the most exciting action scenes in a long time.

From here the movie takes a very different turn that I won’t get into in this review. Suffice it to say that it makes up for the entirety of season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Cabin in the Woods represents Whedon getting back on form after almost a decade of lacklustre output—really, what has he done since Firefly? It combines snappy dialogue and gruesome monsters with a savvy but not too achingly witty dissection of genre mores that is just as good straight. It’s hilarious even as it’s thrilling and scary. This is why Buffy was appealing in the first place.

It was an inspired choice to run the trailer for Chernobyl Diaries in front of this film. The endless Paranormal Activity sequels and sequels-in-spirit are the kind of scuzzy money-grubbing that you can’t get too upset about. And if all stock horror dialogue were delivered in a hilarious Russian accent, the world would be a better place.

The other trailer was for Safe, which looks like fun but forgettable action.

By the way, I don’t mean to seem “elitist”, but to the assholes behind me during the movie complaining about not understanding what’s going on (what’s there not to understand?): please leave. You don’t deserve The Cabin in the Woods. I seem to recall a certain line of dialogue written by none other than Joss Whedon that deals with this very topic…