The Cabin in the Woods is the other Joss Whedon movie of 2012 (for those living under rocks, his other film was The Avengers) and is possibly the most pleasant surprise of the 2012 crop of movies. The Cabin in the Woods was produced and co-written by Joss Whedon with his frequent collaborator Drew Goddard, who also directed the film. Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth (prior to being Thor), Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz (what a name), and Jesse Williams as your stereotypical college students destined to be hacked and/or slashed alongside a supporting cast that includes Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker, and Sigourney Weaver among quite a few others.
Admittedly, after seeing the trailer for this film, I most likely gave out an audible groan and whispered to someone (or more likely myself) that “that movie looks awful” and the preview certainly made the film look like a second-rate version of those films The Evil Dead so wonderfully cut down to size. I was dead wrong, and that makes me oh so very happy. Now before you readers (reader?) think that the film is just a ripoff of the aforementioned Sam Raimi classic, know that The Cabin in the Woods is very much its own film, and is certainly a unique experience.
The basic premise seems to be a pretty standard cliche: five college students are going to visit one of their family member’s cabin in the woods (dun dun dun) only to be confronted by the stuff of nightmares and Wes Craven movies. The fun truly starts when it is revealed that whole nightmarish event for this group is being orchestrated by a large group of scientists in an underground bunker. But are they doing it for kicks, or is it for some higher purpose? But what if that higher purpose is just the cover for something greater? I’ll stop because I probably sound like the conspiracy theory/perpetually high character in every other horror film (fyi: there is one in The Cabin in the Woods), but this film becomes so meta it frequently seems like the horror film version of Community (and if you don’t watch that show, watch it now). If I were to describe it I would say that it is a slasher film inside of a conspiracy thriller inside of a H.P. Lovecraft short-story (put to film).
Joss Whedon is frequently (and rightfully) acknowledged as one of the current bastions of genre film and television, and his works have always emanated with an apparently deep-seeded passion and love for the mediums and genres in which he works, whether it be superheroes (The Avengers, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog, or his work on Astonishing X-Men), science-fiction (Firefly and Serenity), or horror (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and, now, The Cabin in the Woods). Whedon is typically known for three things: witty dialogue, strong female characters, and subverting genre expectations. Therein that last point rests the primary problem with The Cabin the Woods, I can’t imagine it finding a large audience, despite Whedon’s ever-rising star, because this is a film for people who love horror: essentially it’s a niche film. One of the writer’s was quoted as saying that the film was a “love-hate letter” to horror, and it shows: it is affectionately deprecating.
A viewer well-versed in the annals of horror film should get a kick out the countless references and homages to past films as in the case of the cellar of the cabin (in the woods) where one would probably have to view frame by frame to see all the little references sprinkled into that cramped room. Not to give anything away (though I probably already have and/or am going to), but there is a scene in the third act when just about any sort horror antagonist or monster you can think or (or a thinly veiled substitute for that antagonist or monster) all let loose at the same time and it is just great, if you are into that kind of thing (and I am).
Having said all of this about why The Cabin in the Woods is so much fun, it must be said that it is by no means a perfect film, just an exceedingly clever one. As horror film, The Cabin in the Woods is not particularly scary and the means it uses to achieve its thrills are hardly original, although that is sort of the point. This is film for people who like horror, and if you are a person who does not like horror, it is doubtful that you will find this film enjoyable. But I do. And I did. If I were to say one thing about The Cabin in the Woods, it is that while it is not exactly a great horror film, it is a reminder of how much fun good horror can be (as long as it isn’t torture-porn).