Shot in 2009 and then stuck in distribution purgatory for several years, the highly-anticipated horror film “The Cabin in the Woods” was finally released last week. The directorial debut of “Cloverfield” scribe Drew Goddard, from a screenplay co-written by geek-god Joss Whedon (of “Buffy” and “Firefly” fame), “The Cabin in the Woods” is one of those rare horror films worthy of its hype. Even better, the film is a rare entry into the genre of horror that is sure to please audiences of any taste. In fear of spoiling the experience of the film, I’m going to tread lightly in this review.
Initially, “The Cabin in the Woods” seems to be telling a fairly familiar plot. Desperate for a temporary diversion from college, five attractive friends head off to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a weekend of fun and debauchery. You don’t need to be an avid horror fan to know where this is heading. However, the narrative grows considerably more complex and unpredictable as other parties emerge in this familiar setting. Put simply, things are not what they seem.
Without spoiling the film’s many twists and turns, what sets “The Cabin in the Woods” apart from its horror brethren is its meta humor and its vast scope.
Like 1996’s hit, the groundbreaking “Scream,” “The Cabin in the Woods” pokes fun at the genre’s ridiculous conventions yet retains a grim seriousness throughout the proceedings. While the humor is appreciated, it’s the film’s scope that is both the most praise-worthy and the strongest deviation from formula. Whereas “Scream” called into question a disaffected generation, “The Cabin in the Woods” calls into question the progress of modern civilization.
The cast, littered with Whedonites (including “Angel” star Amy Acker and “Buffy” star Tom Lenk), is remarkably strong for a film of this sort. Particularly noteworthy are Chris Hemsorth (“Thor” himself) and soap actress Kristen Connolly, who are able to go above and beyond the generic horror archetypes (jock and final girl, respectively) assigned to them. The real standout, though, is Fran Kranz (TV’s “Dollhouse”) as the paranoid-yet-wise stoner Marty.
With dozens of nods to other horror films, it’s clear that “The Cabin in the Woods” was made by horror fans in love with, yet frustrated by, the genre and its familiar trappings.
Thankfully, whereas many horror films fall apart in their final acts, “The Cabin in the Woods” manages to avoid this fate. The film’s narrative culminates in a large-scale, epic final act that’s unlike anything the genre’s ever seen.
If I had any gripe with the film, it would be that the straight-up-horror aspect of the film ends far too quickly. Despite this, “The Cabin in the Woods” is a rare horror film with little to fault. Heralding it as the next “Scream,” as many critics and fans are, seems a little premature given that the film’s long-term effects on the genre remain to be seen, but “The Cabin in the Woods” should definitely revive mainstream interest in the genre. Funny, innovative and creepy, “The Cabin in the Woods” is a godsend for horror fans and an enjoyable romp for those typically neutral to the genre.