MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror Comedy/Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian J. White, Amy Acker, Sigourney Weaver, Tim de Zarn, Jodelle Ferland, Matt Drake, Dan Payne, Dan Shea, Maya Massar, Tom Lenk, Greg Zach, Ayden Watson, Patrick Sabongui/Runtime: 95 minutes
Before I go any further into this review, I would just like to address one particular quibble that I have with this slice of horror cinema. That being that this is technically classified as a “horror comedy”. I bring this up dear reader because, despite being in possession of a wonderful sense of humor, this is as red blooded of a slice of horror cinema as you can get (in more ways than one). Minor quibble aside however, I feel it should be said that I honestly love the heck out of this movie. Indeed there may be great horror movies, there may be good horror movies, there might be terrible horror movies, but I can promise you that there has never been one quite like The Cabin in the Woods. Not just because of how the whole slice of horror cinema chooses to wrap things up, but because of it has managed to deceive the average movie goer into thinking that it’s just another run of the mill slasher film, but upon viewing it turns out to be a film with one of the most novel narratives for a film of this ilk in quite some time. Suffice it to say therefore that thanks to that as well as solid and phenomenally well-done work from both the film’s helmer and its immensely talented cast The Cabin in the Woods “2012” is a wonderful labyrinth maze of a horror film that you will find yourself wishing to traverse time and time again.
The plot is as follows: The Cabin in the Woods gets underway as we see a pair of suit and tie possibly government employee type buddies by the names of Hadley and Sitterson as they rant about their personal lives to each other as well as talk to a few co-workers about various odds and ends whilst getting ready to start their very crucial work day. (Trust me; I know how that all sounds, but this dynamic duo are of the utmost importance to what goes on in this film.) From there we are then introduced to our quintet of young people who will be at the heart of our little excursion into horror. They are the pretty yet studious Dana, her recently turned blonde party-loving best friend Jules, Jules’ athletic yet also surprisingly intelligent boyfriend Curt, Curt’s bookish but also athletic friend Jessie, and the group’s resident engager in certain substances Marty. We soon learn that our group of friends are headed to (get this) Curt’s cousin’s cabin which is located….in the woods. (Wow….who would’ve thunk it?). Yet whilst the group is busy trying to party hard and relax, we soon see things take a turn for the sinister. A turn brought courtesy not only of some twisted machinations brought into the mix by Sitterson and Hadley, but also due to our group of teens going into the cabin’s (surprise surprise) super creepy basement and accidentally summoning an undead backwoods zombie family that sets their sights on slaughtering our group of teens. Thus can our heroes survive this visceral and brutal attack from this zombified clan, but more importantly what is the role of Sitterson and Hadley and their group of co-workers in all of this mayhem? Suffice it to say that by the end you will know the answers to these questions and so much more to the point that you will never look at horror cinema the same way again….
Now it should be noted that the work done behind the camera in bringing this distinct slice of horror cinema to life was nothing short of beautiful proof of movie magic at work. This starts with the script penned by Joss Whedon who gave us a terrific adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing in 2012….oh and some little independent efforts called The Avengers as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Indeed not only is this script consistently surprising in how it chooses to toy with the trappings of its respective genre in the best way possible, but it also is one that feels like it was written by a passionate fan of horror due to how it gives audiences of all degrees of familiarity with the horror genre a film that is a genuinely loving tribute to all things horror. Yet more than that, there is also a wonderful and surprising degree of novelty that is given toward certain tropes that have existed in horror cinema for so long at this point that you would be forgiven for thinking that there was nothing more that could be done with them so hats off to this movie for finding a way to take them in a direction that is both refreshing yet also engaging in equal measure. As for the helmsmanship on display by Drew Goddard it is absolutely wonderful to behold. Indeed Goddard manages to show that he is an immensely talented helmer who is clearly on the level that this film desperately needed both in his direction, but also in the set-up of the titular cabin and the third act of the film which literally are, without going into spoilers, a horror fan’s version of I Spy come beautifully to life. Indeed this is a very intriguing film that a lot of helmers would have had immense difficulty in making sure everything is in just the right place, but Goddard makes it work and then some.
Now it should also be said that the performances in this are all, no matter how big or small the role may be, absolutely wonderful and a true delight. Yet more than that however, this slice and dice of horror cinema also makes the fairly ingenious choice to make the young adults at the core of the film not like the ones you see in a typical slice of horror cinema. Thus by making the creative decision to have the leads be fairly intelligent to say nothing of decent and quite affable individuals who aren’t by any stretch of the imagination deaf, dumb, and blind to the world around them, this slice of horror cinema actually is able to operate in the same vein as say An American Werewolf in London from 1981. By that I mean that at the end of the day you, the movie goer will discover that you really do not wish for wickedness and horror to befall this group of young adults very much like how you really feel bad for David Kessler whenever that full moon starts to rise in the night sky. I mean this is a rare occurrence where even if this slice of horror cinema was one that dealt with the time honored trope of spending a few days in the company of these people as they drank, shacked up with each other, pulled pranks on each other, smoked a little bit, and whatever else I can honestly see the audience still being able to come away from this with a smile on their face. Of course this is most assuredly not the avenue that this slice of horror cinema chooses to traverse, but even with that in mind it cannot be denied that Kristen Connolly as bookish yet decent and kind Dana, Anna Hutchison as Dana’s throw caution to the wind and live like there is no tomorrow best friend Jules, Chris Hemsworth (who has in the time since this movie came out became a highly regarded actor especially when it comes to his portrayal of a certain superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) as Jules’ loyal yet decent and surprisingly brainy significant other Curt, Jesse Williams (who I am sure a lot of my female readers will recognize due to his portrayal of one Dr. Jackson Avery on a little show called Grey’s Anatomy) as Curt’s intelligent yet not lacking in the muscle department fellow athlete Holden, and Fran Kranz as the delightfully snarky yet also sneakily intelligent group stoner Marty all make wonderful company to follow as this movie rolls along. As for the corporate suits that we come to know and love as Sitterson and Hadley respectively, I can honestly say that Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are perfectly cast in this. Indeed not only are they wonderful in their respective parts, but the chemistry they share when they are talking to each other is absolutely spot-on. Indeed you really do feel like you are watching two co-workers and close friends who have worked together for so long that they know the other phenomenally better than they know most of the other people they work with. Now besides the aforementioned players we also get a wonderful group of support performances including Amy Acker who is perfectly snarky as Lin, Brian J. White whose portrayal of head security officer Daniel Truman is appropriately serious and stoic yet also questioning, and Tom Lenk who very well could just be reprising his role of Andrew Wells from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this. Out of everyone though there is one role in this that is played by someone that I won’t go into that much detail about. All I will say is that not only is the role incredibly well-performed, but that the person they got was the perfect choice for the part.
All in all with all of the various marketing be it posters, ads, trailers, cardboard cutouts, etc. for this distinct slice and dice of horror cinema there was always one element on them that remained as constant as death and taxes (but in the case of these kinds of movies…mostly death). That of course being the film’s main tagline “you think you know the story”. In that respect I definitely think this slice of cinematic pie is actually fairly accurate when looking at it through the prism of that tagline. I say that because with the initial premise of a group of five friends going to a remote cabin for a weekend getaway you probably think you know the distinct avenue that this movie plans to traverse due to the multitude of other entries in horror cinema that have operated with the very same basic narrative hook. Beyond that however, I can also promise you that you literally have not got the faintest idea of where this movie is going to go (and for those of you who do please do not spoil it for those who haven’t). Yet this is not to the detriment of the finished product; rather it is a blessing in disguise since it helps to ensure that this slice and dice of horror cinema is easily one of the most enjoyable to say nothing of rewatchable horror films of the past 2 decades. Indeed the script is clever and enjoyably meta with a dash of twisty and wit thrown in for good measure, the helmsmanship is solid, and the performances from the truly game cast are nothing short of completely and utterly fantastic. Suffice it to say then that The Cabin in the Woods is one horror slice of cinema that both seasoned fans of the genre as well as those who are completely new to the genre will able to enjoy time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Cabin in the Woods “2012” a solid 4 out of 5.