Film Review: The Cabin in the Woods

Fran Krantz, Chris Hemsworth, and Anna Hutchison in a scene from The Cabin in the Woods.
Fran Krantz, Chris Hemsworth, and Anna Hutchison in 'The Cabin in the Woods' - Photo © Lionsgate Films
Loyal readers probably know that I’m a scaredy cat. That rush associated with being scared by horror films present at a younger age has pretty much disappeared. However, the buzz was so good on director Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods that I sucked it up and attended a screening.
If you don’t recognize Goddard’s name, that’s not a big surprise. He’s been producing episodes of Lost, writing episodes of Lost, and worshipping at the altar of writing with grand-fanboy pooh-bah Joss Whedon (who non-Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Dr. Horrible fanatics will know as the director of the rapidly approaching The Avengers … and let’s all agree to forget Dollhouse). For fans of Whedon, watching this tale of five college kids battling evil at a cabin in the woods (where did they get that title) will be a mix of nostalgia and catharsis. He’s not in the director’s chair but co-wrote the screenplay with Goddard and produced the film; truth be told, it’s not quite clear what stamp Goddard was able to imprint as this has Whedon’s fingerprints all over it.
For years, Whedon’s been working primarily within the restricted domain of TV – playing with dark themes but not able to go hard-R. That’s certainly changed here. People are stabbed, bitten, ripped apart, shot, pummeled, etc., etc. by a veritable whats-what of horror creatures; zombies, werewolves, ghosts, giant snakes, little Japanese girls that float around and act creepy, even a Pinhead knock-off and so much more. While death has always been a constant of his work, Whedon took advantage of the opportunity to make sure each kill was bloodier and more brutal than ever before.
Also, as fans of his know, there’s always a certain glibness and meta-nature to the characters and plot. One can almost always count on the most normal seeming characters being the most capable of evil deeds. And look for longtime collaborators making bit appearances. One of whom, Amy Acker, gets to share the screen with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – who are the key puppet masters pulling the strings behind the scenes and making this a vacation the collegians won’t soon forget.
For the more hardcore film fans out there who knew this was filmed in 2009 and is only now getting released, be assured that the long shelf time wasn’t due to the quality of the product. Goddard and Whedon had to fight off plans to convert this to 3-D (THANK YOU!) and Lionsgate bought the distribution rights off of MGM. And as long as you aren’t the type to find the almost pretentious nature of the script’s cleverness a problem, this is one very fun and bloody ride.
What begins as a typical slasher film with obvious undertones of a grander scheme at work settles quickly into a balance between its horror roots and Whedon’s almost macabre sense of humor. Fanboys (and girls) will certainly enjoy the film and even if you’re a less dedicated follower like myself, this is plain and simple entertainment … that is, if you enjoy a little death and dismemberment with a nice dose of comedy to even things out. The Cabin in the Woods is best enjoyed with a crowd, as most horror films are (though hopefully there will be fewer children at your screening than there were at mine). I can only hope Whedon takes a few cues from this and applies it to the Marvel universe … because we don’t really need all of The Avengers to live, do we? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical … and accurate.
The Cabin in the Woods hits theaters on April 13, 2012 and is rated R for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity.