The Cabin in the Woods waffles back and forth between settings. The white-collar workaday business at what looks like just another office shares space with the creepy confines of the film’s namesake. Explaining how these two settings relate to each other would be spoiling things. If you haven’t seen it already, treat yourself. You’ve never seen the old-school horror tropes get skewered like this.
Before we dive in, this is a rated R film. Younger readers who might have found their way here from my Facebook page should probably avoid it for a while. But your parents may get a kick out of this.
What looks like your typical cookie-cutter slasher film is really something quite different. We’ve seen the set up more times than we can count. Five attractive stereotypes—the jock, the brain, the blond, the druggie and the virgin (kind of)—head off to a secluded place in the woods. After the requisite creepy inserts and tales of a bygone legend to foreshadow the coming doom, there’s flirting, there’s sex, and then there’s bloodshed. And wouldn’t you know it, I haven’t spoiled a single surprise. There’s much more going on under the surface (and I do not mean that in the figurative sense).
Old tropes got to be tropes in the first place because there was a time when they worked. Cabin dusts them off and gives them a nice clean polish. Joss Whedon seems to have his hands in almost everything these days. He and his old friend Drew Goddard put this little gem together and their fingerprints cover the thing from beginning to end. They infuse these walking cliches with a touch more brain power and insight than the usual scary story would allow and turns them into something a little more substantial.
Every surprise in this movie deserves enjoyment. It returns a little verve to an old favorite, at once renewing and sealing the lid on a sub-genre that really has run its course. You could call it a parable. Maybe we need to be a little more mindful of our stories and the way we tell them. What invites mockery may not make for the best way to parlay your point, unless you spin it the way this movie spins the old-school horror genre. Then it becomes a one-shot deal. The Cabin in the Woods may inspire some copycats. If it does, the copycats have missed the point.
It’ s a struggle to stay so vague, keep everything in very general terms without giving away anything specific. The filmmakers spin their tale with taut precision, so keep your eyes open. They have delivered you something much better than the usual Big Mac. They cleverly package something new in the same little brown box, and they want you in on the joke. All you have to do is open the lid.
What you’ll find inside, if you’re willing to look long enough, acts a little like a looking glass. Not everyone will like this picture. And some who run to see it will miss the fact that the joke’s on them.
If you want anymore detail than that (and a far better analysis than I anything I’ve delivered here), go read what Jeremy Purves has to say. He gets it.
Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Directed by Drew Goddard