Five months later, and I’m still not willing to spoil The Cabin in the Woods, just in case anyone reading this has yet to discover this wonderful, comedic horror gem. It is an endlessly inventive, surprising, genre-bending masterwork, and the most unexpected curveball the filmmakers throw at you comes in the very first scene. If you can watch the film as a completely blank slate, I guarantee you will be completely unprepared for what Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon have in store for you; the experience is revelatory.
Back in April, I thankfully managed to make it to my screening without glimpsing a single frame of footage or hearing any plot synopsis (beyond the implications of the title), and as such, the whole movie felt like a deep, glorious breath of fresh cinematic air. I see a lot of films, and though I never question my love for the medium, sometimes even I need a reminder of just why it is I keep going to the movies. The Cabin in the Woods is exactly the kind of kick to the gut I thrive on, the kind that keeps me doing this job, week after week, year after year.
The film is, on one level, a love letter to horror itself, with Goddard and Whedon’s palpable enthusiasm for the genre being as integral to each scene as celluloid. They have a deep, insightful, and affectionate understanding of horror; as director, you can practically feel Goddard squirming with excitement behind the camera as he flawlessly executes some of the sharpest horror direction in years. His knowledge allows him to subvert many of the expected tropes in the most delightfully unexpected ways; several scenes begin along familiar lines, forcing us to anticipate a certain resolution, when all of a sudden, Goddard zigs when we expect him to zag.
It’s hugely invigorating, but those moments don’t hold a candle to the real surprises Goddard and Whedon have in store. For as much as these filmmakers clearly love horror, The Cabin in the Woods is, at heart, a critical discussion of the genre. They use the simplest, most archetypical of horror set-ups as a springboard into a larger discussion of how a horror film is crafted, and more importantly, how and why audiences react the way they do. It reaches beyond what one sees on screen into the theatre itself, forcing the viewer to reevaluate how they view horror, and to start thinking about society’s role as well. The biggest twist, the one I mentioned above, is the insanely clever way Goddard and Whedon hold the audience accountable, firmly rooting the story in meaningful thematic subtext.
But more than anything else, the film is just fun. Deliriously, uproariously fun, with bigger laughs than any comedy I’ve seen this year and genuine scares that will get your heart pounding. The numerous unexpected turns the film takes only make it more entertaining, because this is the exceedingly rare instance where you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. All you know is it’s going to be awesome.
We’ve come to expect certain things out of the cinematic medium at this point. If you get to the theatre even half as often as I do, you start thinking that nothing could be truly surprising at this point. Even the best movies I see each year never feel entirely fresh or unexpected. There are only so many ways a film can go. It’s finite. That’s how it works. Despite having heard so much positive hype about Cabin, I had trouble believing it could truly break down such concrete barriers.
But trust me when I say Goddard and Whedon find new directions. Over, and over, and over, and over again.
Five months later, The Cabin in the Woods remains one of my favorite films of 2012, and now an even larger audience can experience the film as it arrives on Blu-Ray. Lionsgate has put together a very good release, with excellent video and audio and a surprisingly robust extras package.
Encoded in 1080p high-definition, the video transfer is extremely strong. The film was photographed on 35mm, and as such, there is a healthy, pleasing layer of grain, making for a nicely filmic image where all the warmth and depth of celluloid is left in tact. Colors are vibrant and stable (except in moments when they are intentionally cooled off), textures are dimensional and detailed, and facial tones look spot on. Fine detail is generally exquisite, though some of the darkest scenes are overly soft. It appears to be a contrast issue – blacks aren’t always as deep or defined as they should be – as I distinctly remember the nighttime scenes looking as good as anything else when the film was projected theatrically. Ah, well. It is a small matter. The Cabin in the Woods looks very good.
The 7.1 DTS-HD master audio track, though, is flawless. No matter the sonic environment – soft dialogue scenes or bombastic, violent mayhem – the track is crisp, booming, crystal clear, and utterly enveloping. One of the greatest pleasures of Blu-Ray is hearing theatre-quality sound in one’s living room, and if Cabin doesn’t look quite as good as it did in theatres, I heard absolutely no difference in sound. This is as vast, detailed, and expertly directional a track as what was heard in the cineplex, and I am overjoyed to have it for home viewing. The film sounds great.
As for extras, Lionsgate has done a pretty outstanding job putting this one together. There are far more bonus features here than I expected for what was a relatively small release, and nearly all of them are worth watching. Let’s take a look at the complete list, and then examine the highlights:
- It’s Not What You Think – The Cabin in the Woods BonusView Mode
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Drew Goddard and Writer/Producer Joss Whedon
- We Are Not Who We Are: Making The Cabin in the Woods
- An Army of Nightmares: Makeup and Animatronic Effects
- Primal Terror: Visual Effects
- The Secret Secret Stash: ‘Marty’s Stash’ and ‘Hi, My Name is Joss and I’ll Be Your Guide’
- Wondercon Q&A
- Theatrical Trailer
The best feature is the Audio Commentary with Whedon and Goddard. Both are exceptionally engaging, thoughtful speakers, and even with their tendency to get silly (which usually makes for some good laughs), they have plenty of substantive things to say. I learned a lot about the film’s production watching this track, and even began rethinking some of my preexisting interpretations of the film. This is everything a commentary should be: Amiable, entertaining, and endlessly educational.
The picture-in-picture ‘bonus view’ commentary isn’t nearly as good. It’s decent, and has some good information, but the material comes too infrequently, and you would be better off learning about what the track has to say by watching the three featurettes. The main “Making-Of” feature is a good one; at thirty minutes, it covers a lot of ground, and is mostly comprised of candid on-set footage. The two twelve-minute Visual Effects pieces are more structured, and of great interest to those fascinated by the myriad of familiar, strange, and surreal creatures seen in the film. I would also recommend the Wondercon Q&A panel, which runs another half-hour. It covers some familiar ground if you listen to the commentary, but Goddard and Whedon work well together, especially on the fly with a crowd. Give it a watch.
As one of the best films of the year, I would probably recommend any home video release of The Cabin in the Woods no matter what. But Lionsgate has worked hard to ensure this release is worth every penny for fans and newcomers alike, and the effort pays off. This is a top-notch Blu-Ray release on every front, and comes highly recommended.
This article is based on a copy provided to us for review purposes.
This is a must-buy Blu-Ray. The Cabin in the Woods is an excellent movie, it looks and sounds great, and there are plenty of informative bonus features. Highly recommended.