Cabin in the Woods review

cabin in the woods review posterEven if you can’t name the exact movie, you know the story. Five young people head to the woods and wind up being terrorized by something that wants to kill, and possibly eat them, for various reasons. It doesn’t even have to be the woods, just as long as it focuses on a core group of death-friendly people being pursued by something awful. The number and personalities of the victims can vary, but typically in traditional horror movies they all end up gravitating to well-worn archetypes that are one-dimensional characters marching toward their inevitable deaths.

The characters (and even the stories) are formulaic to a fault, and that is what Cabin in the Woods exists for. Cabin Co-writer/producer Joss Whedon and Director/co-writer Drew Goddard have made their names over the years with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which continually took traditional and even clichéd moments, then made them fresh and original — or mocked them. Over both of their careers, Whedon and Goddard have continued this method of deconstructing the predictable and twisting it. Cabin in the Woods is no exception.

It’s tough to really explain what Cabin in the Woods is without spoiling what makes it worth watching. It is a horror movie, but it is more accurate to call it a horror movie within a comedy that is in another horror movie. There are layers to the film that contrast each other. One moment you are watching a gore-filled blood bath, the next you are listening to two guys crack jokes about their favorite monsters. It is similar to last year’s Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, which took a similar twist on an expected horror convention but focused more on the comedy angle.

cabin in the woods review movie image 1It is the juxtaposition of the contrasting themes and moods that makes Cabin in the Woods a love letter to horror fans. Imagine watching a horror flick—specifically a horror movie from the 70s through the 90s where the characters act in ways that border on suicidal—and yelling at the characters to not be stupid, then having the movie stop and agree with you. It is a sharp and witty way at looking at conventional horror films and then mocking them while still honoring them.

I pity the people left in charge of marketing this movie. It is a difficult film to explain without ruining it. You have five kids–all of which match existing horror movie archetypes like the jock and the hot soon-to-be-naked blonde—heading to a remote cabin for a weekend of fun. Bad things happen.

But this is just one part of it, and not even the main driving force of the plot. As the kids are busy trying to avoid being horribly murdered, a mysterious group is watching them and manipulating events for their own purposes. And that’s all you’ll get from me.

The cabin horror narrative plays on the conventions of the genre to the point that it almost becomes like meta-fiction as they seem to recognize and comment on the situation they find themselves in, which leads to some very funny commentary. There is a price to pay for this approach though.

cabin in the woods review 2012 006The cast generally do a good job and Bradley Whitford has the best performance in the film, which is partly due to the fact that Goddard and Whedon have given his character the best dialogue and most interesting role. The doomed cabin goers all play out their assigned roles well, but the bulk of the film rests with relative newcomer, Kristen Connolly. She does fine with what she is given, but what she is given is deliberately weak. She is the scared victim running from one scene to the other, which limits her possibilities. But even before that, hers is the least interesting character and one that is never really developed.

Sure, there is a reason for it that plays into the entire motif of the story, but none of the actors ever really have much to anchor them to the film or to make you feel invested in their fates. There are a few brief moments at the very start that attempt to quickly humanize and characterize the roles, and Fran Kranz as the paranoid stoner Mitch stands out a bit, but otherwise none of them really have much impact.

As a bit of a bonus though, the movie is also filled with several Buffy-verse familiars so fans of Whedon have extra incentive to check it out.

Cabin in the Woods is essentially one long “in-joke” between horror fans. It is the humor that will keep people talking, and it is the critical eye on the genre that will be remembered and have a lasting impact. After this, it will be tough to watch another traditional horror movie without thinking back to the conventions that Cabin called out.

cabin in the woods review movie imageConclusion

Cabin in the Woods is a clever and insightful parody of traditional horror films on one hand, and a genuinely decent horror movie in its own right on the other. The humor sometimes overshadows the horror, but in general it works on several levels. Fans of the medium will love the deconstruction of the familiar conventions, while non-fans can enjoy the unfolding mystery and wit of the film.

The only nagging issue is the lack of any real bond with the lead victims, who are generally overshadowed by the plot and the other characters in the film that are far more original. That is by design, but it is also a bit of a missed opportunity, especially late in the movie. That’s a minor concern though, and not one that seriously impacts the film.

After you see Cabin in the Woods, it will be hard to watch other horror movies that use traditional conventions without thinking back to this movie. So basically Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard may have just ruined the horror genre. Or maybe they helped to save it.

Home Theater

Stranger Things season 3 predictions: Decoding the episode titles

Netflix has revealed the episode titles for season 3 of Stranger Things, and the eight titles could shed light on what we can expect to see when the hit show returns in summer 2019.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (December 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ trailer unleashes a bevy of beasts

Legendary Pictures has released the first full-length trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the sequel to 2014's Godzilla, which pits the giant lizard against a host of new monstrous threats.
Movies & TV

Disney reveals epic first picture from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction

The Millennium Falcon is fueled up and ready to embark on its Smuggler's Run at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the new theme park attraction set to open in 2019 at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Home Theater

Looking for the best 4K Ultra HD TVs you can buy? Here are five great options

If it's time to upgrade your old 1080p to a new 4K model but you don't know what to look for, fear not, as we're here with a list of the best 4K Ultra HD TVs to help make your buying process as easy as possible.
Movies & TV

The best Amazon Original series, from 'Bosch' to 'Transparent'

Amazon Studios may not have as big a collection of in-house productions as Netflix, but there are still lots of shows worthy of your eyeballs. Here are our picks for the best Amazon original series.
Movies & TV

HBO Go vs. HBO Now: Which streaming service is right for you?

If you're looking to get access to HBO, you might be comparing HBO Go and HBO Now. We break down the differences between the twin streaming services and see how they compare to one another.
Movies & TV

Sit down and watch some of the best stand-up comedy on Netflix

Feeling a little funny? There are hundreds of hilarious comedy specials out there, and you can't be expected to comb through them all. Lucky for you, we've compiled a list of the best stand-up specials on Netflix.
Movies & TV

Lose the torrents. Here's how to watch 'Game of Thrones' online (legally)

Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows on TV, but unless you're a cable subscriber, finding a way to watch isn't always easy. Check out our guide on how to watch online, whether you prefer using HBO, Hulu, or Amazon.
Home Theater

Kill your cable and switch to streaming with our painless guide

If you're going to quit cable or satellite for a streaming TV solution, you're going to want to get it right the first time. We've outlined exactly how to get started, step by step. Follow our lead, and you'll never look back.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…