A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
I would love to say that beautiful phrase summarizes The Cabin in the Woods, but in reality, it’s more of an accurate representation of my feelings towards this wonderfully crafted, unabashedly entertaining yet ultimately frustrating love-hate letter to slasher horror movies. While I’d love to go into detail about what frustrates me about this fresh and inventively conjured film from director Drew Goddard and geek-culture Jedi master Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly,), doing so would do a grave disservice to you, the reader. You see, The Cabin in the Woods is a reviewer’s nightmare because a vast majority of its pleasures (and my frustrations) are derived from what you don’t know and what I can’t say. If you think you know the story, you’re wrong!
Neither an all-out homage nor a straight-up satire, The Cabin in the Woods starts out just like any other slasher horror movie: Five teenagers –a jock (Mr. God of Thunder, Chris Hemsworth), a blonde slut (Anna Hutchinson), a virginal brunette (Kristen Connolly), a pothead geek (Fran Krantz), and a minority/strong silent type (Jesse Williams) – head out on a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods to, you know, have sex, have fun and whatever else teenagers do in horror movies. Eventually, “bizarre things” begin to happen and they’re soon getting brutally killed off one-by-one. But that’s just one half of the picture, and the point where the similarities to other horror flicks end! Since I’m not going to disclose what happens after, let’s just say that it’s at once sharp, exciting, thrilling, hilarious, scary, and just ten tons of fun! In fact, I don’t have any qualms in saying that for most of its running time, The Cabin in the Woods is only the second American horror movie I’ve enjoyed in at least a decade (Sam Riami’s Drag Me to Hell being the other)! Let the record show that I say this as someone who finds horror to be the most anemic of genres.
What Whedon and Goddard have created here is not merely a horror movie but an experiment that explores the existence of slasher movies, the horror genre itself, and its place in the larger universe of movie rules. Simply put, it’s a brilliant idea, and I can see why hardcore horror movie fans are fapping over it. However, brilliant as the idea may be, it’s also the movie’s greatest (and near fatal) weakness. There are so many twists and turns happening here, so many inventive plot elements converging that by the time the film reaches its climax, the idea becomes so vast, complex, and outrageous that it collapses into a cacophony of geek pandering craziness. In short, Whedon and Goddard’s imaginations exceeded their reach! The last 15 minutes of the movie are so ludicrous that it took me out of the film and made me lose interest in the characters I was following. This is also where I suspect the general movie-going public and horror movie fans will disagree because a lot of the film’s climax deals with a moviegoer’s familiarity with horror movie conventions and their familiarity of the genre.
Even if The Cabin in the Woods turns out to be too smart for its own good, the actual journey itself is a rousingly entertaining and inventive trip, full of twists, unpredictable turns, and surprises, complete with Whedon’s trademark wit and meta-humor. Whedon’s the star but I’ve got to hand it to Goddard, who directs the hell out of this movie. It’s all the more impressive considering it’s his debut feature. The Cabin in the Woods may not be a homerun in this reviewer’s eyes but it’s more than worth the watch if you consider yourself a connoisseur of cinema, especially of the horror genre.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Written by: Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams (and two awesome actors whose roles I won’t disclose)
Rated: R (for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity)