Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

(l to r) Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker, Bradley Whitford

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

It’s a crying shame that the horror genre isn’t embraced by a larger demographic. Because The Cabin in the Woods, with its head screwed on backwards – enough to make Linda Blair spew out of sheer jealousy – delivers such a dazzling triple onslaught of sci-fi, comedy and horror, it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Even if horror films make you squirm, even if you have to filter your vision through tightly-laced fingers curtaining your eyes … it’s worth it.

While many earlier cinematic attempts have gone in for double doses of horror and comedy, the humor is usually sophomoric, drenched in proportionate vats of blood and parody. But with this added sci-fi bent, incorporated into an extraordinarily clever screenplay by Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse and the upcoming The Avengers) and Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), there are moments when the dialogue startles us into concomitant screams of mirth and shock.

Skirting around as much of the plot to preserve its surprises, it’s safe to mention that we first meet two laboratory control room wonks (Richard Jenkins’ Sitterson and Bradley Whitford’s Hadley) complaining about the latest in baby-proofing contraptions. The scene establishes both the easy, comedic relationship between the two men, as well as tying the timeframe to today. Boom! The title suddenly slams onto the screen in huge red block letters, followed by bloody credits that drip downward into eventual oblivion. Hmmm … baby proofing may not be all that important after all.

(l to r) Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly

We subsequently cut to a group of college students packing to leave on a weekend trip to – say it with me – the cabin in the woods. The stock characters are refreshingly not all that stock, such as the smart, unattached redhead Dana (Kristen Connolly), afraid that her pals are setting her up with the decent, scholarly Holden (Jesse Williams). Blonde bombshell Jules (Anna Hutchison) can’t wait for some hot hanky and panky with hunky athletic beau Curt (Chris Hemsworth). Bringing up the rear is Marty (Fran Kranz), the all-around egghead/pothead/smart aleck. He makes a show of locking his car door, even though the windows are still wide open.

After the group’s encounter with the stereotypic chaw-spittin’, redneck gas station owner Mordecai (Tim De Zarn), who wastes no time in warning them that it might be difficult to get back home, the party of five merrily voyages forth into the great woodsy unknown. We’ve had a few hints that things are not all as they seem, but aside from the usual whorish damsels in distress at the hands of assorted ill-mannered freaks, their boyfriends woefully unable to save the day … what’s going on here?

The film swiftly cuts back and forth between the cabin and the lab, throwing in puzzling references that keep us in a state of hyper alert. We often feel that we’re being toyed with as much as the quintet, the story throwing out every horror trope we know. Looking at the checklist: We’ve got the sexually aggressive female; the spooky, musty artifacts hanging on the wall and/or collecting dust in the dark, dank cellar; the argument about whether it’s better to stay together or split up in teams; the remote location that’s too far off the grid to run for help, etc., etc. The references to the iconic elevator in The Shining are priceless. At one point, a character watches another on screen as he digs into his popcorn with gusto. It’s meta movie time, us watching him watching her, the Escher-esque recursive concept of a picture within a picture within a picture (a/k/a “the Droste effect”). Dare we look over our shoulder to see who’s watching us? Or do we already know that it’s the studio (Lionsgate), watched by its vertically-integrated corporations, watched by the top one percent that will, upon this film’s success, immediately spring into clone mode, generating dozens more?

As his first directorial venture, Goddard is no slouch. While the credits reveal that Whedon offered a guiding hand by overseeing second unit directing duties, this is still an impressive debut.

The acting is strong, the concept brilliant, the entertainment top-notch. Forget about staying away from the cabin; rather, stay away from all the spoilers if you can. Just go and see for yourself.

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Rating on a scale of 5 erroneous assumptions that we’re finally out of the woods: 4.5

Release date: April 13, 2012
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Written by: Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard
Cast: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, Brian White, Amy Acker, Tim De Zarn
Rating: R
Running Time: 95 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

Comments

  1. A friend of mine has been bugging me to see this with him this weekend. I think you sold me, Kimberly. Another awesome review…and a chance to get a Whedon fix in before the Avengers. :)

    • Which begs the question: Will Joss Whedon be able to put as unique a stamp on The Avengers, given that he has to contend with so many characters from previous franchises? Stay tuned …

  2. John Booth says:

    Great review. Any film with Joss Whedon in the writing credits is going to be sharp, but it’s good to hear that this film lives up to its hype. Really looking forward to seeing this.

    And thanks for the lack of spoilers.

    • Regarding spoilers … I hate them! And see no sense in ruining anyone’s moviegoing experience. Hope you enjoy the film, John, and thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

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