Like a man going into a dentist for the first time in 20 years, the modern-day horror film needs to have a serious examination, cleansing, and a burnishing; we have fallen into a rut of bloated copycat movies about serial torturers, video camera footage about possession, and remakes of ‘70s and ‘80s horror movies that were good the first time around. So, what do you do when you want to revitalize a genre? You send in master writer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard, a man who cut his teeth under Whedon on the television shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”. Together, they have created some of the most memorable moments in television and cinema history; now, they have joined forces once again to bring us The Cabin in the Woods. Similar to this year’s Man on a Ledge, the title gives away its premise. But even more similar is that the title only gives you a glimpse of what’s to come – the rest is best left to unfold as you watch it. That, my friends, is where the similarities end. The difference? Man on a Ledge will more than likely be forgotten in the next year, while The Cabin in the Woods is an absolutely exceptional piece of art that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Originally made in 2009 and slated for a 2010 release, The Cabin in the Woods was lost in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s bankruptcy fallout; since then, Lionsgate Films gained the rights to it and thankfully kept it away from a once-proposed 3D conversion. Finally hitting theaters on Friday the 13th, 2012, the three-year wait from slate to screen is definitely worth it. Trying to even discuss the plot or the movie’s machinations will only result in giving it ALL away; plot-wise, all you need to know is that it’s a movie about five college students traveling to a remote cabin in a forest, where they are met with, shall we say, extremely adverse circumstances.
Some horror movies are stocked to the gunwales with cannon fodder for the killers – throwaway characters that are merely in the film to be turned into fish-bait for the audience that paid to see it happen. The Friday the 13th sequels are chock full of characters like these, easily identifiable during the introductory phases of each film. You have the jock who gets every woman that crosses his path; you get the comely young woman (more than likely never heard from again after being in this role) that you just know will get naked sometime during the movie; there’s the awkward brain that winds up getting pelvic-thrusty with said young woman; you have the comic relief in the form of the guy who tries way too hard; and you also have the quiet, reflective girl who, more often than not, becomes the much-storied Final Girl, the one who makes it out alive after enduring all manner of pain and suffering wrought by whatever malevolence is stalking her. One of the great things about The Cabin in the Woods is that while these standard personality tropes may apply, there are precisely NO throwaway characters to be found – each one has a purpose of forwarding the plot and adding to the movie, rather than just standing in front of a guy with a large knife, screaming for assistance that will never come.
There are a lot of curious things about The Cabin in the Woods – the most curious being how to define it. By many different turns, it is equal parts horror movie and the deconstruction thereof, along with a heavy dose of black comedy and a whole lot of smarts. If you’re looking to be scared, this may not be the movie for you, because while there certainly are scares to be had, they’re merely bumps on the roller coaster track on which this film seems to be. While it may have all the landmark aesthetics of a horror movie – gore, violence, drugs, and boobs – there’s something completely different and fresh to behold going on here. Even with nods to horror (and some non-horror) films that have come before, The Cabin in the Woods is a welcome look at the modern horror film, its methods, its clichés, its joys and its terrors, and most importantly, its smarts, all culminating in a final act that’ll leave you stunned. Enough vague random discussion of this movie; go see it at your earliest convenience.
FINAL GRADE: A+
Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa