The Cabin in the Woods is built from the discarded remains of a thousand other movies. It starts with a familiar floor plan – strand five idiots in a forest – then goes apeshit on the architecture. Like any structure built to unusual specifications it doesn’t really hold up, but it’s sure fun watching the designers try.
College kids Dana (Kristen Connolly), Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Holden (Jesse Williams) and Marty (Fran Kranz) are headed “off the map” to a dark, scary lodge in the forest. Along the way they stop for gas, while a local bumpkin (Tim De Zarn) glowers and spits in their direction. As they leave he telephones Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), a white-collar worker apparently controlling the environment to suit some nefarious plan ...
And I’ve said to much. If you knew what I knew, you’d have no reason to go. Cabin is all surprises, red herrings, twists and turns. Some work, some don’t. Suffice to say director/writer Drew Goddard and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon (Lost) have seen more horror movies than anyone ever should, even plenty of “meta” slasher pics. Self-referential, wink-wink horror is just one of many tropes they gleefully take apart. Whether supernatural shockers, torture porn, B-movie creature features or home invasion flicks, there is no horror fantasy they haven’t pre-digested for our benefit.
When it gets on the right track Cabin feels like an overheated imagination projecting itself onto the screen. There’s an exhilarating joy in watching filmmakers literally try anything, and for the most part get away with it. It doesn’t add up to a coherent whole, even in the slightest, but you may not notice that 'til well after you've left the theater.
The actors, tasked with playing intentional stereotypes, find ways to make us care about their characters, Connolly in particular as the proverbial virgin. The Scream series got worse as the actors forgot they weren’t supposed to be “in on” the joke, while Cabin assembles a cast ready and willing to play it straight to the end.
The truth that The Cabin in the Woods isn’t actually very horrific will be noted by just about everyone that sees it. But can you blame it? Unlike any great horror movie you could name it isn’t about violence, anxiety or fear of the unknown. It’s a movie about movies, full stop, and its thoughts on the matter are interesting enough to make up for deficiencies in the scare department.
Director: Drew Goddard
Alliance Films, 105 minutes
Related: We interview director Drew Goddard