Cabin in the Woods – Review (Spoilers)


Inventive use of the dead teenager formula

For a spoiler-free review of the film, click here

When it comes to horror films trying to find a film that’s genuinely creative is fairly difficult for those who aren’t aficionados of the genre. For every Shaun of the Dead pieces out there, waiting to be discovered, there are seemingly hundreds of choices that ought to be collecting dust. Much like any other genre true creativity is a relative shock; most times you end with slight variants on the clichéd, predictable formula. Much like how the guy and the girl always end up together at the end of a romantic comedy, the lone anti-hero saves the day in an action film and the plucky lawyer manages to win the tough legal case against the wealthier corporate attorney, horror films generally have the same sort of conventions that can be a bit boring to many.

Which is why The Cabin in the Woods is so refreshing: it takes the clichés and manages to have more fun with them than they deserve.

The film follows five college kids going out to a cabin for the weekend. Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz), and Holden (Jesse Williams) drive out in typical fashion for a dead teenager film. The twist is that they’re not alone out there.

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are behind the controls of the cabin, trying to complete a sinister task of making sure all five college kids wind up dead in short order. With an entire creative and technical staff behind them, the two are at the controls of one remarkably deadly operation intent on trying to make sure that all five are dead by dawn. If they’re not successful then there are grave consequences for all involved.

The two technicians play the kids like chess pieces on a giant, interactive board at their conclusion. Mixed in with some fairly dark humor about the film’s context, the film has plenty of remarkably funny moments mixed in to great effect. This is a film that’s aware of itself as a dead teenager film, with the conventions therein, but not with a wink and a nudge level of outright parody. It tows that line by playing with some of the conventions of the genre, from the spooky old man at the gas station (the telephone call on speaker might be the funniest scene of the year) next to Jenkins’ rant at the end about Japanese horror.

“How hard is it to kill 9 year olds?” might be the best line the Oscar nominee has had in his relatively few forays into broader comedy.

The key to the film’s success is how well it plays with conventions of the genre. This is a film similar to Scream in that it mocks the conventions of the dead teenager film, for lack of a better descriptor, while also being a great film in the genre. With enough one-liners and variants on the clichés of the formula, The Cabin in the Woods is a well written film first and foremost. This is a film that focuses on story, not blood or body count, and with the writing pedigree it has that’s not surprising. Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, wrote the film as well as produced it.

Drew Goddard makes his directorial debut and is credited as a co-writer but its obvious Whedon’s handprints are all over this film. If you didn’t know better you’d have thought Whedon directed the film himself; the film has similar pacing and tone as Serenity does. Goddard uses many similar camera placements and cuts as Whedon has; it’s a simple style but effective. Cabin in the Woods has the same of feel that Whedon’s cinematic oeuvre to Firefly has.

The film’s only problem is that its conclusion is fairly lackluster. It ends with a whimper, not a bang, which is a shame because with a tighter conclusion the film would approach Zombieland level of quality as opposed to settling for that benchmark right in front of it. It’s good, never great, but inventive enough to seek out.

Director: Drew Goddard
Notable Cast: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver
Writer(s): Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard

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