Posted on 10/12/12 06:21 PM
**** out of ****
As a horror fan, I'm often asked by those not-so familiar with the genre why I find such entertainment value in the often very dark and macabre subject matter usually at hand. I give them a similar answer each time, although it's not so easy to just pin it all down at once. I love horror films for the unique stories that can be told exclusively within the genre boundaries, I love them for the fact that they can be acceptably unconventional and strange (well, in comparison to most movies). It's not that simple, to be completely honest; but we well-versed horror fans know why we adore the genre and those who don't may never understand it. Those who truly love horror movies feel an almost spiritual and very emotional connection with those types of movies, or at least the good ones; it can run genuinely deep at times. I know it certainly does for me.
I don't think any film has ever came as close as "The Cabin in the Woods" does to defining why I am such a big horror fanatic. Without spoiling too much, I'll just say that it's a horror movie essentially all about horror movies; the mechanics behind their making and the ideology that we bring into the theater or whatnot with us when we go to see/watch them. In that sense, it's a bold and brilliant film meant to appeal almost exclusively to those with the aforementioned "genre connection". If you lack it, you will not like this movie; but if you do, you'll most likely love it. I personally believe it will - in due time - go down as a modern horror classic, because we don't see something this unusually resonant that often.
Five college kids head off to a cabin in the woods. There's the virgin (Kristin Konnolly), the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the whore (Anna Hutchison), the "nice guy" (Jesse Williams), and then there's the stoner (Fran Kranz). On the way, they run into a creepy gas station owner. Upon arriving, they hit the lake and then drift head-first into a night of partying. While playing truth or dare, and after one of the two girls in the group has been dared and succeeded in making out with a stuffed wolf head mounted on the cabin wall, they venture into the basement after the cellar door is blasted right open a la "The Evil Dead". It's there that they discover mysterious items, one of them being an old diary of sorts that tells the horrific and grisly tale of a family that had lived and died on those very grounds. There are Latin words inscribed at the end of the diary, and you can imagine what happens when they are read.
(You might want to stop reading here, even though I won't be spoiling too, too much.) As the film's tagline indicates, you think you know the story. You think you've seen this movie many times before; perhaps too many times, but boy are you in for a hell of a surprise. The first scene in the film actually has nothing to do with the kids; but rather a pair of technicians - Gary (Richard Jenkins) and Steve (Bradley Whitford) - who seem to work for an organization that is more or less watching over the group via security cameras and deciding their fate. It appears to be a part of some sort of ancient ceremony, but that's as far as I'll go with plot details. The narrative is constantly shifting between office and cabin grounds, until a killer third act that evokes religion and Lovecraftian themes brings it all together quite nicely (and chaotically).
Everything involving the college kids and the back-from-the-dead previous occupants of the cabin is pretty run-of-the-mill, albeit intentionally. However, if this was a stand-alone slasher picture, it would STILL be better than most of the others. Thank God it's a lot more than just that. "The Cabin in the Woods" is an accurate, relevant critique of the horror genre as a whole. The script by Joss Whedon ("The Avengers", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") and Drew Goddard (who also directs) was supposedly written in just three days (an act per day, as they said); which really does surprise me given that it's probably the most innovative and clever I've seen this year. I think the film qualifies as a potential classic not only for its twisty, surrealistic, all-over-the-place style; but also for the many quotable lines (we can thank Fran Kranz's Marty, who by the way is the best of his kind since James Franco's Sal in "Pineapple Express", for most of those).
On one level, the film is making fun of the horror genre and on another it's clearly very affectionate of it. The script and direction certainly seem like they are the love child of two men who have a very obvious love for horror movies; and so it shows. "The Cabin in the Woods" is hilarious and unconventional; fun and classic in just about every way. Those who wanted a conventional cabin-in-the-woods horror movie will be sorely disappointed; those who actually looked at the damn poster and kind of knew what they were getting themselves into will be pleasantly surprised. I adored every second of it and it will easily go down as one of my Top Ten favorites of 2012. No, it is not a "scary" horror film; but it was not meant to be. It was meant to entertain those who understand what makes the genre tick for them personally. The joy of making and watching a horror movie is all here; all the sex, gore, and CGI monstrosities. It's an astonishing and exciting sight to see. Now, I'm going to go read a book with pictures.