If you’ve ever wondered why so many horror films are released outside the October radius and why so many of them fall flat and disappointing, then The Cabin in the Woods might be perfect game-changer for you. Producer and co-writer Joss Whedon (Creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dollhouse) described Cabin as a “loving hate letter” to horror movies and well, that’s a good way to put it, but trust me, knowing that does not prepare you for what you will incur with this film.
Jump to the next paragraph if you’ve read this synopsis a million times before–or not. A group of five college students plan a getaway of seclusion with the rustic outdoors, tranquil lakes and an unending forest of foliage. Curt (Chris Hemsworth, The Avengers) and his girlfriend Jules (Anna Hutchison, Underbelly) lead the planning, dragging their friends Dana (Kristen Connolly, Revolutionary Road), Holden (Jesse Williams, Grey’s Anatomy) and Marty (Fran Kranz, Dollhouse) to join them. No wifi-signals, no cell phones, and no Five Guys Burgers down the block. To many that might sounds like a terrific vacation, but for the savvy horror fan, those are the ingredients for a scary movie.
Concurrently, we are introduced to a corporate science facility, fortified with impenetrable concrete and steel, that employs what seems like an army of faceless ties and white labcoats, except for one Amy Acker (Angel) who plays the lead scientist Lin. The directors of research, Sitterson and Hadley, played respectively and impeccably by Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), are both cynical and dryly comical, and may also be championing male chauvinism.
While they make their way to the central control room, our five young bloods work their way to the cabin in their old RV and try to settle into the strange accommodations that hide behind the visage of a classic outdoor cabin. It includes disturbing wall décor, a two-way mirror that separated two of the bedrooms and trap doors leading to other questions.
Back at the lab, TV monitors line the walls and desks showing our five protagonists monitoring what they’re up to at any given moment, as well what appears to be similar “experiments” going on in other countries. No, this is not the big reveal of The Cabin in the Woods, but you can imagine how these two environments are juxtaposed and connected as many of you have seen The Hunger Games. Are they being manipulated into their conspicuous fates? The story devolves into familiar ground and that is exactly where first-time director Drew Goddard wants you comfortable.
Goddard has the pedigree of geeks’ dreams, having been a writer and producer of two genre trees: The first is the J.J. Abrams tree, writing on Alias, Lost, and the feature film Cloverfield. The other is the Whedon camp, as a staff writer on both, Buffy and Angel. There’s a tongue-in-cheek signature within this circle–a knowledge of how to create a modern story populated by the young and upcoming actors; they know how to tap that energy and envelope it into a story that’s fast, sexy, funny, ingenious and wildly creative but can also embrace the Velveeta in a way that’s not cheesy.
So as the horror “show” plays out with all of the eyes of the science facility watching–and the way Sitterson and Hadley especially are watching–we’ve yet evolved into another stage of voyeurism; it’s the natural trickle-down effect of being desensitized by the sadistic trend in horror films and reality television. Then again, that would be too easy of a commentary. Bring your A-game when you buy your ticket.
As for the third act, what plays out is quite incredible and that’s meant in all of the ways you want to interpret it. I simply will not divulge much more–the current trailer already says too much–except that it goes so far from where you think it would and at some point your verdict on the film will begin to teeter towards one of two ways, depending on your movie IQ. It is advised to stay through the first quarter of the credits, in case it’s not as high as you care to admit and if you’re watching it with friends, you’ll probably want to talk about it right away anyway, so, seriously why rush out the door?
For as much as Whedonites and Goddard fans will want to plan their high fives and chest bumps exiting the theater, The Cabin in the Woods is not a perfect film. When trying to create a unique movie experience, it’s not always going to be accepted in a universal manner. At times it cuts to the lab orchestration too often and at times jarring, taking the viewer so far away from the setting of the cabin that it takes viewers out of the moment and could potentially disengage them from the film completely. Cabin could have gone further, and pushed the scary element in the second act, and keep it rooted in more realism than fantasy, but the leap ultimately taken is admirable.
The majority of horror notes should stir up familiar memes lovingly with genre fans, while others who watch this film as if they’re driving down a straight road may get so ill-tempered, they may not stay long enough to experience the gratification of the full third act. Trust me though; all of that potential inner-turmoil is part of the intended journey and this is NOT your typical horror film.
So believe me when I say it is a journey worth taking, but do consider seeing The Cabin in the Woods before the end of the weekend, because the surprise will be likely be spoiled by the savage and impolite that wish to ruin the experience for those who refuse to see it on a release weekend of Friday the 13th.
Years from now, horror buffs will try to fit The Cabin in the Woods as a part of a conversation to categorize and classify it with others–but that would simply be missing the point.