I have to admit that I was more than excited to finally see The Cabin in the Woods, which premiered at the SXSW film festival last night. As the title might suggest, this is Joss Whedon’s unique spin on the cabin-in-the-woods subgenre. And as any fan of Whedon’s will guess, this horror film took a simple concept and turned it into a freaking apocalyptic bloodbath (while maintaining plenty of tongue-in-cheek charm).
Not giving away too much of the plot will be a tricky job, as this is a movie review and it is hard not to, you know, talk about the movie. But Whedon actually made an appearance at the screening and appealed to the audience to “keep to themselves” the plot of the movie, so as not to ruin the novelty of this unique horror for those who have not yet seen the film.
In fact, Whedon and co-writer/director Drew Goddard both commented on the best way to watch Cabin in the Woods: going in blind. All you really have to know is that this film is a cabin in the woods tale, with a hell of a twist. What’s just as fun as the strange turn of events towards the end, is the self-referential humor and clear nods to the horror genre.
The movie begins as most horror flicks do, with an unsuspecting group of college kids heading out for a weekend trip to an isolated cabin in the woods to get their party on. All the typical archetypes are present and accounted for; the slutty blond chick (Anna Hutchison), the brainy girl-next-door (Kristen Connolly), the alpha male (Chris Hemsworth), the good-guy (Jesse Williams), and the pot-head/clown (Fran Kranz).
Meanwhile, things are a-buzz at a secretive high-tech underground facility. Something’s about to go down, and strangely enough it surrounds the unsuspecting college students, and a booby-trapped cabin in the woods rigged with spy cams.
Ok, I guess that’s enough of the plot. Don’t want to give away too much. Needless to say, mixing this basic horror subgenre with high-tech gadgetry and pseudo-religious overtones is a bold move. At first, it seems like an easy way to change up a simple concept. But then the story goes “there.” It unflinchingly lays out a story that is apocalyptic in scale, all from the humble beginnings of what appeared to be a silly cabin-in-the-woods horror.
And then there’s the winks, the inside nods to the horror genre, and the sometimes dark yet tongue-in-cheek humor unique to Whedon. It’s less of an homage to the genre and more of a poking of fun (out of love, of course). There’s even a choose-your-own-destruction scenario a la Ghostbusters.
Watching this in a theatre of movie buffs made these aspects more apparent than ever. When the group of friends begins to encounter disturbing events and decide to split up instead of staying together, the audience howled with laughter. After all, everyone knows the characters in horror movies always make stupid mistakes, like splitting up, going down into the cellar, opening the front door, and not turning on the lights before they search a room or a closet (especially after hearing a strange sound).
I appreciated not only the scope of the story, but the scope of the horror. I feel like Whedon and Goddard tried to give horror buffs a taste of everything; a horror movie that takes off the gloves and breaks some faces. One of the film’s weaknesses is that this horror throw down doesn’t really take off until the third act of the film. This means a humorous but pretty insubstantial first two acts.
The acting doesn’t stand out in this pic either, but then the story doesn’t really rely on the skill of any one actor. That being said, Hemsworth plays the alpha male with easy believability (a little foreshadow of his role as God of Thunder in Thor). There were also plenty of familiar faces to those fans of Whedon’s work. I saw at least three actors I recognized as regulars from Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire and Angel TV series, and at the end of the movie there’s also a surprise appearance by a genre-film legend.
The Cabin In The Woods was made a few years ago and, for reasons known only to the Powers-That-Be at MGM, shelved. Now that it’s been taken off the shelf and about to get a theatrical release, Whedon fans will have something to sink their teeth into (while fantasizing about a possible Serenity sequel).
What I can definitely tell you, without giving away any of its secrets, is that Cabin in the Woods is going to be a pleasant surprise. At first it might feel a little light-weight, almost like an extended episode of Angel. You might have to wade through some silly horror inside jokes and insubstantial set-up first, but once the plot takes that twist it’s all edge-of-your-seat thrills and grand-scale horror.