I’d like to start out by saying that I walked into the theatre expecting a completely different movie. I decided to refrain from watching too many trailers of The Cabin in the Woods because I can usually draw out the storyline of any modern horror flick fairly easily. While I am thankful I saved myself from any spoilers, I am interested in how they marketed it and why, because this is not a horror film; this is a comedy hiding discreetly within the folds of a gore-fest, in a good way. This movie refreshingly presents an original take on the genre among a sea of films rife with re-dos and one-ups.
Minor Spoilers Ahead – Beware!
The movie opens in the way most horror films open, with a girl in her underwear. Even though I rolled my eyes at how overdone this tactic is, I will admit it’s one of the few things about horror films I can get on board with. In my opinion, the nudity displayed in these kinds of movies is in the best taste possible and I stick by that. With that being said, there wasn’t nearly enough of it in this one, but that stands to reason with what I said earlier. This is not a horror flick.
So what’s the movie about? A group of college kids go up to a cabin to enjoy a debauchery-filled weekend, of course. They have all the right pieces to make it happen, too. There’s the hot blonde (Anna Hutchison), the handsome jock (Chris Hemsworth), the academic scholar (Jesse Williams), the goofy stoner (Fran Kranz), and the apparent virgin (Kristen Connolly). This is the movie written by the character Jamie Kennedy played in Scream. Every rule of the horror checklist is checked off one-by-one in such an obvious way that it would seem there are puppet strings helping this little story along. Beware though, those strings are subtle yet rewarding if you catch them. In so many movies today, especially horror, you can look away or even walk out of the room and come back without missing anything. That is not the case with The Cabin in the Woods. Not to say those hints are vital to the story, but I think we can all agree that Easter Eggs in movies are one thing all of us Nerds hope for when heading into the theatre.
So how is this story any different? It’s literally making fun of its own genre. What’s the worst thing about modern horror? It’s completely and utterly manufactured. From the plot lines to the way a person is decapitated, the movie industry has turned the business of horror into a science. I imagine Joss Whedon watching some terrible horror movie and getting so fed up he throws his remote at his enormous television and immediately starts his work on the The Cabin in the Woods script. “I’ll show you manufactured!” he screams. He writes a bigger picture. He pulls back and envelops all of society into the horror, rather than just a small group of people in a small area of the woods. He makes you wonder, “What if all the terrors in the night that we’ve made ourselves afraid of have just been cogs in a bigger machine all along?”
The idea is that there is a government-sanctioned organization running periodic “operations” to please an unknown “Harbinger.” The “operations” being complex replications of modern horror. Haunted houses, werewolves, little girls in wells, even zombies; they all make an appearance in this film. These are the things we fear as a modern society and these are the tools we use to procure our salvation. How are our fears used to save humanity? I won’t spoil that for you but I can tell you it was fun figuring it out for myself.
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard wrote the movie, and it was produced by Whedon and directed by Goddard. We all know Whedon from his various establishments in nerd culture and you may know of Goddard from Cloverfield and Lost fame. What you may not know is that they have worked together for a long time. Goddard wrote on Buffy, Angel and even played in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog. In my opinion, this is a writing team that just works. The Cabin in the Woods is proof of that. It’s the perfect amount of hilarity mixed with a dash of confusion to keep you going. They took the gore we want from a good scary move and threw in the perfect amount of self-deprecation of the genre. The obvious jabs at cliché terror tactics makes me feel like I am having an exclusive conversation with the writer, like we are sharing our distaste for the current state of horror on film. Basically, it made me feel smart.
Joss Whedon even brought a few of his old friends into this movie. Amy Acker and Tom Lenk from Buffy and Angel make appearances and Fran Kranz from Dollhouse is our happy stoner. The roles they played are almost homages to their previous characters in the Whedonverse, so it was fun to make character comparisons during the movie. Whether Whedon’s unique vision and brand of humour will transition well in next month’s Avengers is yet to be seen, but I have much more faith after seeing this movie. While I wasn’t jumping out of my seat from fear, I was either laughing or cheering for more gore. This is a movie perfect for the theatre and perfect for those who are generally sick of what we call “scary” nowadays. I’m going to give this one 4 out of 5 Nerdskulls.