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Cabin in the Woods A Fun Spin On The Horror Genre

The Cabin in the Woods
Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Joss Whedon and Goddard
Lionsgate, 2012

This is Goddard’s directorial debut, although he has served as producer on a bunch of JJ Abrams shows like Lost and Alias, and wrote the screenplay for Cloverfield.  It’s no surprise that one of the Abrams crew brings us a new spin on the horror genre, teaming up with another fanboy favorite Joss Whedon on the screenplay.

Told in a knowing style, much like Scream did nearly 16 years ago, there’s only one other movie I can think of in that span that has that self-aware narrative and that was the little-seen but cult favorite Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.  What these movies do is take the cliche horror conventions and give reasons for those cliches.  Scream was more of a, “Well, you think you’d act differently, but you’re wrong,” type of scenario, and the killers were inspired by horror movies.  Behind the Mask lays out in detail that there are rules a killer has to abide by, and thinking several steps ahead is required for it all to make sense.  Cabin in the Woods might be the daffiest of them all.  No wait, it is the daffiest of them all.

We begin with its opening, in a huge mega-facility where we meet Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), where they are preparing for a routine night of work.  Jenkins and Whitford’s banter, something I can’t wait to see deleted scenes of, is a huge plus for this movie.  They’re running some sort of social experiment, or is it?  Other countries are doing it too, and they always lament that Japan is always ahead of them.  Ahead of them for what?  We don’t know, but we have to watch a typical horror movie unfold to find out.

Sitterson and Hadley are in control of a classic horror movie scenario: 5 friends go to a remote cabin in the woods where cell phones are useless.  As you know from the trailer, there’s a part where a huge bird flies towards a cliff only to be incinerated by some invisible perimeter fence.  This is no ordinary horror scenario.  But, it plays out like one, as our hero girl Dana (Kristen Connelly), rides along in a camper with her friend Jules (Anna Hutchison), her boyfriend Curt (a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth, as this was shot in 2009), dreamy egghead Holden (Jesse Williams), and stoner Marty (Fran Kranz).

They get to the cabin and their curiosities are aroused by a cellar door, which leads down into an orgy of horror cliches: the old diary, creepy dolls, a puzzle box, etc.  Reading the Latin from the diary brings zombie rednecks to terrorize and attack the five friends.

It’s here where the movie churns towards its very knowing horror cliche bible, and the reasons for it…but the movie has very much kept some of the funnest stuff for last, and it’s probable you’ve never seen anything like this before.  I know I haven’t.  I have a feeling that this movie will divide its audience in two: one will enjoy the unique spin this movie delivers, and the other half will wish this just could have been a nice little cabin-in-the-woods horror story without the huge facility making it happen.

The movie is really funny.  It’s safe to say that this is a movie that doesn’t necessarily have huge scares in store and is trying to frighten you in any way, although I guess there are a couple that would fit under that description.  The “other countries” part of this made me really laugh hard, as did almost any scene with Jenkins and Whitford.  Character actor Kranz, who was on Whedon’s Dollhouse as well as a significant role in Jake Kasdan’s The TV Set, is also very winning.

MGM was on the project but then they went bankrupt, so then Lionsgate swooped in to pick it up, and then talk of lawsuits, and the possibility it would be a 3D movie.  Some part of me says some of the reason is so that Whedon could capitalize on his film The Avengers so that there would be a more receptive and aware audience.  Before, Whedon had a select but rabid fan base, but now he’s “the director of The Avengers” and thus more average joes know his name than before.  I do think the movie has some plot holes and half-baked ideas: one very crucial plot point turns out not to be that big of a deal and is turned into a throwaway joke by a surprise actor at the end.  I felt like that crucial point could have made some of the chaos that occurs later make a lot more sense.  Still, many of the half-baked ideas are better than some of the full ones conjured up by most movies these days.

For those looking for something completely different this weekend, give this a try.  At the very least, you should be entertained, and you may come out of the movie wondering what the hell you just saw, but you’ll remember it, that’s for sure.

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