Watching “The Cabin in the Woods”
WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THIS REVIEW. DON’T READ IT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!
I knew very little about the new horror film “The Cabin in the Woods.” I knew it had an unusual twist that would supposedly blow me away, but I had no idea what that twist entailed. I assumed the film would be a bit like “Scream” — a self-aware horror comedy that deconstructs the genre while also paying tribute to it, and providing genuine scares. So I was somewhat confused by the film’s opening scene, which features two middle-aged technocrats, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, amiably chatting by a water cooler. Where was the cabin in the woods? And the nubile young victims? I felt like I was watching “The Office.”
“The Cabin in the Woods” does feature nubile young victims — five college students who are heading off to spend a drunken weekend in the woods. The movie actually takes time to develop these characters a bit — they fit clear archetypes (the jock, the stoner, the girl who sleeps around, the girl who doesn’t, the smart guy), but they also subvert those stereotypes.
For instance, the athlete Curt (Chris Hemsworth) is actually a pretty bright guy — we later find out that he’s a sociology major. The college students meet a creepy man at a gas station on their drive to the woods, who warns them against going any further, but they ignore them and eventually arrive at the cabin, which has a few weird quirks, such as a one-way window that enables one to spy on the occupant of an adjoining room.
Just as the movie seems to be heading in a more conventional direction, we drop in on the technocrats again, who are observing the five college students from a bank of TV monitors and seem to be controlling their environment — pumping chemicals into the cabin that will decrease critical thinking and increase libido. (During one funny scene, Curt tells his friends that they should stick together, which prompts the technocrats to pump a chemical into the room to make him less sensible. “Actually, we should split up,” Curt says, after getting a whiff of this powerful drug.)
The college students eventually make their way into the creepy basement, where Dana (Kristen Connolly), the film’s good girl character, reads from a creepy diary and triggers a zombie attack. Back in the office, the technocrats and their colleagues have placed bets on which horror movie scenario the college students will trigger (the objects in the basement trigger different scenarios), and when the zombies begin lurching toward the cabin, the technocrats and their colleagues cheer.
This is all very intriguing. Why, exactly, are the college students being manipulated and targeted for death? Director Drew Goddard and producer/writer Joss Whedon (of “Buffy and the Vampire Slayer” fame) keep things mysterious, up until the unhinged finale, when we learn that horror movies are actually a vast government conspiracy, and that each year, nubile young adults who fit clear archetypes must be sacrificed to appease angry gods who dwell beneath the earth; if the ritual is not completed, the gods will rise, and the world will be destroyed.
What’s interesting about “The Cabin in the Woods” is how it cracks wise and even mocks the whole horror movie concept, while also asking viewers to take one of the more ridiculous plot twists in recent memory seriously.
“The Cabin in the Woods” is a clever, ingenious little film, but it is not particularly scary. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be. The film’s final third is pretty delirious — a non-stop barrage of weird ideas and images. The stoner, named Marty (Fran Kranz, who, in one of the film’s funnier gags, is so high he’s largely immune to the mind-altering chemicals being pumped into the cabin) and Dana manage to escape the cabin and make their way into the secret facility where the technocrats work, and unleash all of its terrifying creatures, who run amok and kill everyone. Meanwhile, the world is about to end, because Marty and Dana are still alive.
“The Cabin in the Woods” is an odd film, and at times I wondered if it wasn’t a little too odd — whether, in its desire to be different and meta and hip, it had overlooked more important qualities, such as heart. (As much as I enjoyed the film’s conclusion, it goes on a little too long.) Ultimately, “The Cabin in the Woods” is more of a puzzle film than a horror film — a film more like “Cube,” where a group of people get trapped in a cube and must figure out how to get out, than “Night of the Living Dead” or even Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” films, an obvious influence on “The Cabin in the Woods.” Though sometimes too clever by half, “The Cabin in the Woods” is thought-provoking and provocative, and lingers in the mind longer than you might expect.
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