The Cabin in the Woods is a film that has been trying to see the light of day for years. First conceived by fan favorite Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard several years ago, principal photography for the film started and ended in the year 2009. The film was slated to be released in early 2010, but was pushed back to mid 2010 so it could be converted to 3D. Unfortunately for fans of Whedon’s work, MGM owned distribution rights to the film and stated its release would be postponed indefinitely due to the studio’s financial troubles. MGM filed for bankruptcy near the tail end of 2010, and Lionsgate bought the rights to the film’s distribution in April 2011. They then took their time in releasing, waiting a full year before a wide release this past weekend. So, now that the film’s production history has been firmly established, know this: The Cabin in the Woods was worth the wait.
“Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen. If you think you know this story, think again.” This is all that Lionsgate says to describe the film, and it’s also all that I’m going to say in terms of the film’s plot. This movie is unique. To even go into the smallest of details regarding its plot would be a complete disservice to the film. The Cabin in the Woods is the kind of movie that hasn’t been around in a long time, a movie that utterly subverts its own genre. The closest thing to The Cabin in the Woods that has come out recently might be Zombieland, but not even that film is as encompassing in its level of genre-twisting. The script is remarkably clever, and fans of Whedon will definitely recognize his fingerprints all over it. It simply has that Whedon flair for taking something that otherwise seems relatively normal and average, in this case a horror film, and just spinning something completely new and unique out of it. Trust me, a lot of the ideas in The Cabin in the Woods have been played with before in films like the original Scream and the old Evil Dead movies, but never in this way. Things like making fun of horror movie clichés and character archetypes are all here, but in truly clever and interesting ways. Whedon’s talent shines through in this film’s razor-sharp script.
Of course, all the credit cannot be given to Whedon. He only co-wrote the script, alongside writer/director Goddard. Goddard may be a relative unknown to most, but he’s the guy who wrote the screenplay for Cloverfield. Cloverfield is actually a personal favorite of mine, and one that doesn’t ever seem to get enough love simply because of its handheld shaky cam antics. What can’t be denied, though, was Goddard’s ability to convey how a bunch of ordinary 20-somethings would handle themselves in truly extraordinary circumstances (read: a giant ocean trench monster attacking New York City). The characters of that movie were what drew you into the film. Their silliness in the movie’s earlier scenes served as the gateway to audience believability; their actions allowed the audience to connect and relate to them. Goddard does the same here, allowing us to connect with the believable characters even as the film forces them into their respective archetypes. These archetypes eventually crumble, as Whedon and Goddard gleefully pull the rug out from under audiences’ typical expectations.
It’s also interesting to note that not only does Goddard have relatively few writing credits (Cloverfield being his major one), but The Cabin in the Woods also serves as his directorial debut. And what a debut it is; Goddard skillfully sets up the clichés and references to other horror films and keeps horror fans on their toes trying to pick out which exactly he intends to play with next. The comedy at the film’s heart is well executed and never overstays its welcome, as Goddard creates an excellent balance of laughs and frights. The performances he is able to get out of his cast of relative newcomers are also very good. In this film, we get to see a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth. While he doesn’t have as large a role as the post-Thor marketing for this film might suggest, his charisma and subtle knack for comedy is still notable. My favorite performance was from Fran Kranz, who was definitely assisted by the fact that his character was very well written. Kranz provides a lot of the film’s laughs as “the fool” character, although Whedon and Goddard prove that there is also room in a horror film for the fool to have some brains. Cinematography and score didn’t seem terribly central to the experience that is this film, but they thankfully provided zero distractions from the rest of the movie.
The Cabin in the Woods is destined to become a cult classic. It’s the kind of film that won’t get seen at theaters since it’s still competing alongside The Hunger Games, which currently sits at the top of the box office for the fourth straight week. It’s also a film that isn’t necessarily for everyone, as it does seem to have employed a lot of meta in its script. Still, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. I went to go see it based solely off of the Whedon-Goddard-Hemsworth involvement, and I don’t even think I watched the right trailer for it. I dragged a friend to the theater with me, and he had actually seen the trailer and wasn’t particularly enthused beyond the fact that it seemed relatively more interesting than some of the other films currently playing. I’m not a huge fan of comedy films, and yet throughout this movie my friend and I were both consistently laughing out loud along with the rest of the theater. Both of us came out very glad that we saw it with little to no real expectation, and decided it was definitely one of the better movies we had seen recently. So don’t read into it too much and just take a chance if you’re bored. The Cabin in the Woods will definitely surprise you.