Movie Review: “Cabin in the Woods”

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In terms of horror films, “Cabin in the Woods” does the unthinkable, it surprises you. With Hollywood churning out so many predictable films, it’s not unusual for the audience to know exactly what will happen, and we’re so used to this that it’s become acceptable. However, “Cabin in the Woods” breathes life into a genre that we all thought had been beaten into the ground. Joss Whedon (writer) and Drew Goddard (writer and director) take the formulaic and turn it on end, creating a deconstructed love letter to a genre long thought destroyed.

There’s not much I can actually tell you about “Cabin in the Woods” without ruining some of the joy that comes with seeing it for the first time. If there’s one thing I can tell you though, is that it’s the mother of all horror genre films. However, it’s not exactly frightening. “Cabin in the Woods” is a tough film to peg because it’s the ultimate representation of multiple genres, including comedy, horror, slasher, and monster flicks. It takes what you’re all too familiar with and deconstructs it to the point where you have to wonder what’s left over for other filmmakers.

“Cabin in the Woods” is partly a classic tale of a group of teenagers who take a vacation in the woods, only to be met with a gruesome fate. Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams) take a break from school to stay in a cabin deep in the woods. They party, swim in the lake, and do all the things one would expect students on break to do. However, while each character seems to represent an archetype, they are also developed beyond that. For example, Curt, the seemingly jock character, is on academic scholarship, and Anna, the girl voted most likely to get naked in the first act, is pre-med. The group of five friends can easily stand in for any group of friends in the real world. Their genuine friendship rolls off the screen and the audience can actually feel the love they hold for one another, a factor that is glaringly missing from the majority of horror films.

Having been shot three years ago, prior to Chris Hemsworth’s success in “Thor,” “Cabin in the Woods” has been eagerly anticipated by many. The original release date had been scheduled for February 2010 but due to MGM’s financial woes, the film was shelved until Lionsgate finally got their hands on it. With Whedon and Goddard fans having to wait years to see it, many may wonder whether or not the film can live up to their expectations. I can’t tell you what happens but I can tell you that “Cabin in the Woods” soars as a self-aware genre film that continually pulls the rug from under you until you quit trying to guess.

The cast is simply amazing. Kristin Connolly gives a stand-out performance playing Dana, the sweet and innocent girl that is confronted with the most bizarre of situations. Where others may have played Dana straight, Connolly gives her an emotional resonance that only strengthens as the films continues. Fran Kranz, who has worked with Whedon and Goddard before in “Dollhouse,” is a pure joy on screen. Playing the stoner Marty, Kranz (who you can see on Broadway in “Death of a Salesman”) is comedic gold, delivering lines that are both witty and intelligently aware of the situation. You’ll also love when he wields a fully functional bong/travel mug as a weapon.

It would be a disservice to not mention Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, playing techies Sitterson and Hadley, who open the film in a way that may be jarring. You may not know what’s happening at first but you will love being confused as Jenkins and Whitford produce the perfect blend of humor and malice, giving you a reflection of our own society. Also, fans of Whedon and Goddard will be happy to see Amy Acker (“Angel” and “Dollhouse”) on screen, playing Jenkins’ and Whitford’s more serious counterpart.

As a postmodern deconstruction of the horror genre, “Cabin in the Woods” simply wouldn’t exist without the audience’s expectation of clichés. Whedon and Goddard know their horror films and they know exactly how to play with the classic predictability that audiences come to expect. That being said, the fiercely witty duo never mocks the genre. Everything in the film, while poking fun, is created from their deep love and respect for the films they grew up on. However, they have no interest in the torture porn that has become so popular with films like “Saw” and “Hostel,” and make it clear from the start that this is a very different movie. That’s not to say there isn’t a good amount of blood and guts, because there is, but “Cabin in the Woods” is on a mission to be more than that and it succeeds in ways you wouldn’t have thought possible. Whedon and Goddard made the ultimate horror film, a masterpiece that is wickedly funny and serves as the final act to a genre that has been overrun with self-referentially over-stimulated productions, with little point beyond the instant gratification.

Word of advice: do not research this movie and do not allow friends to tell you what happens. Just walk into the theater with a clean slate and come out, faith in the horror genre reaffirmed, and tell others, “Trust me, just go see ‘Cabin in the Woods.’”

Check out the official website for clips from the film, photos, cast and crew information, and more!

Mila Pantovich runs her own blog, Reel Obsession, where all of her articles can be found. 

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