There is no way to write this review properly without revealing too much about the movie than you should know going in. For that reason I am just going to tell you to go see it, it is incredible, give my score and then, if you want to know my thoughts about it, you can come back and read the rest of the material under the score. Again, I implore you not to spoil things for yourself because this movie is meant to be taken in as you see it, not spoiled in a review or on wikipedia.
Cabin in the Woods is incredible and you should go see it. To manage expectations, it is not really a horror movie as much as it is a deconstruction of horror movies so you shouldn’t expect it to be very scary. It is not meant to be. All I can tell you here is that if you think it looks dumb because it is ‘just another slasher movie ripping off Evil Dead and Friday the 13th’ then you are wrong. Period. Go see it and then we will talk.
Conclusion [10 out of 10]
Okay if you are still here and you haven’t watched the movie yet I am going to give you one more chance to do the right thing and turn away. I will not give big spoilers below but there will be enough to tarnish a first view. Please, do yourself a favor and go see the movie before reading anything else about it, here or otherwise.
By way of synopsis, Cabin in the Woods finds five stereotypical college kids going out to a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Jules the slut (Anna Hutchinson), Holden the intellectual (Jesse Williams), Marty the stoner (Fran Kranz) and Dana the virgin/final woman (Kristen Connolley) all pile into an RV to head out to Curt’s cousin’s cabin. They pass the obligatory creepy old man at the gas station who creepily warns them not to go out there, go through the treacherous mountain pass that looks like it collapse at any moment and when they get out there get up to the typical flirting, drinking, smoking pot and sexing that you see in these movies. Following a trip to the basement they unleash an undead evil hell bent on killing them all. But something else is going on that is not quite right. The kids start to notice some issues but the audience will be in on it much earlier. Things are not what they seem.
Cabin in the Woods is a movie of layers and if I had made it, I would have done the structuring a bit differently and left what is going on behind the scenes to be revealed later in the movie. I would also be wrong as the film isn’t trying to burn you with a twist. It wants you in on things right away so you can be sucked in and participate. There are additional layers below that which expand on the hows and whys but even at that point the reveals aren’t meant to shock you as much as they are to take you deeper down the rabbit hole.
The movie works partially because of the masterful script by Joss Whedon and Director Drew Goddard and partially because it brings the viewer in on the joke and turns it around on them. It’s closest analog is the original Scream but as good as that film was, Cabin in the Woods is much more clever and savvy about it’s deconstruction. The other movie it brings to mind for me is the Truman Show in that, at the end when he walks out of the set and the film just stops, the viewer is left with frustration for not knowing what happens next and as such has become just as voyeuristic as the audience in the film that was just disgusting you 10 minutes ago. There are many moments in Cabin in the Woods that make the viewer feel like this and it is a masterful move to twist the knife that much more.
The movie is also really, really funny. The horror movie tropes explored and turned on their heads here are done in a very funny way, especially if you are a horror fan, and the dialogue is very clever and funny as well. This isn’t a comedy but anyone familiar with Whedon and Goddard’s previous works (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse) will know what to expect.
The performances here are excellent and do exactly what needs to be done. Even as you see the five kids falling into stereotypical situations, the performances allow you to care. You don’t want them to die and hope that they don’t, especially Kranz’s Marty who is the first to notice that something is really wrong. Hemsworth is sort of an oddity in that the movie was shot two years ago before he made the transition into Thor, god of thunder for Marvel, so it is kind of weird to see him as a regular mortal. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are also great in roles I won’t reveal but which the movie does before the title card. Amy Acker and Tom Lenk, Buffy and Angel alums, are also awesome in roles that don’t stray very far from their roles in previous Whedonverse efforts.
There are going to be people who dismiss this movie as a knee jerk reaction to what they think it is going to be and still others that shun it because of what they think it is supposed to be. And then there are going to be people who think it is pretentious. While I can’t call the opinion of others ‘wrong’ I can say that those people have nothing at all in common with me and this film is destined to be a dividing line on whether or not I ever take a person’s opinions on movies seriously again. It is pretty douchey to tell people who don’t like something that it is just because they don’t get it but in the case of Cabin in the Woods, the people I have seen who haven’t liked it on message boards so far have proven in their arguments that they really actually didn’t get it no matter how many times they claim they did. That is okay I guess but there is a lot going on here and if you call the movie dumb then I do question your intelligence not as a function of feeling superior but just as a function of you clearly not understanding something that is is pretty obvious and enormously well elaborated. Also, there are a lot of boobs and gore too so even on that most basic level, you are covered.
Cabin in the Woods is probably the best movie I have seen so far this year and I recommend it to people who love horror movies and to people who hate horror movies. For the people who love horror, you will see the reasons why. For people who hate horror you will also see the reasons for that as well. This is a smart movie and a fun movie and is just simply incredible any way you slice it.