Day 123: The Cabin in the Woods

"Nemo... you gotta wake up man!"
I am thirty-two years old, and in my lifetime, there have been two horror films that have felt completely and totally revolutionary. You had the feeling when watching them that the horror genre was never going to be the same again. The first one was Scream, which I saw the night it opened to zero hype and fanfare, yet would go on to spawn three lackluster sequels and seem almost like a pale imitator of itself in retrospect.
This morning, I saw the other film, a film I knew nothing about, had seen no trailers for, read no reviews for, and I urge you, with every fiber of my being, to follow suit, and not read the rest of my review until you've seen The Cabin in the Woods for yourself. Please don't read on, lest you risk spoiling yourself to any of the myriad treasures of awesomeness this film has in store for you...

This is your last chance to turn back, I'm not going spoiler heavy in this review, but I sincerely think that knowing absolutely anything about this film ahead of time will ruin your enjoyment of it. The Cabin in the Woods was filmed somewhere around two years ago, and has sat on a shelf for some inexplicable reason. It is absolutely, hands-down, without a doubt, the most radical and imaginary horror movie of the last fifteen years.
The film is heavy on horror mythology, and the more steeped in the genre you are, the more you're going to enjoy the film. It plays on all your expectations, giving you winks and nudges as it doles out the tropes that we've come to rely on. If it wasn't so well written, it would almost seem aggravating in its eagerness to hit all the beats of "teenagers in the middle of nowhere" story you've seen a million times. Okay, this is officially your last chance to turn back and protect your innocence, plot details to follow..

The film opens with two average corporate world joes, expertly played by Bradley Whitford & Richard Jenkins, going about their day, making small talk, and dropping hints that they have some sort of control over a social experiment involving teenagers. We are then introduced to our five teenagers who are unknowingly part of this "experiment," each of which fits a horror stereotype. There's Dana the virgin (Kristen Connolly), Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Jules the whore (Anna Hutichson), Holden the brainy nice guy (Jesse Williams) and Marty the stoner (Fran Kranz, who bears an uncanny resemblance to District 9's Sharlto Copley). They are off to spend a weekend in an isolated cabin that Curt's cousin recently acquired, but they are also being monitored by Jenkins & Whitford, their every move commented on from a control room miles away, as if it has all been set up ahead of time.
The thing that immediately jumps out at you is how well these actors play both sides of the coin in regards to their character. They're very easily recognizable as the familiar character-types, but they also have more going on than the usual "type" in a horror film. Curt, for example, is a Sociology major, who gets angry when he thinks his girlfriend Jules has been reading a text book about Russian finance. Marty is also incredibly observant and has much more insight into the world and situation around them than your typical horror film stoner.

Bit by bit, the audience is clued into the true scenario going on, and it's much more than you could ever expect. There are hints and clues given along the way that make sense in retrospect, but going into the film cold, you'll never be able to figure out what on earth these people in the control room are actually up to. The way that film unfolds is fantastic, shifting your focus between the teens and the guys in the room, and treating the teens predicament as an after-thought at times, in a truly interesting way.
The film breaks ground left and right, setting up pins and knocking them down like crazy. Needless to say, the last twenty minutes or so, leave no stone unturned, and in the most brilliant stroke of all, they leave absolutely zero hope for a sequel. It's a ballsy move, but one that makes me bow to the film's superiority. This will not become another Scream and thank god for that. The world needs fewer sequels, and more originality in it, and it's refreshing to be presented with that attitude in a film like this.
The film was directed by Drew Goddard, who co-wrote the script with geek god Joss Whedon, and while the film has Whedon's witty stamp all over it, it's Goddard's film top to bottom. No one will mistake this for a Joss Whedon film, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I love what he does, but it's nice to see him give someone with similar sensibilities a chance to create something wholly new and original.
The acting is great, across the board. All the teens are awesome, particularly Kranz & Hemsworth, but the film truly belongs to Jenkins and Whitford. They are actors that know how to make the most of roles like these, and they are ridiculously good in the film. I was shocked by how comedic the film was, and these two bring most of the funny. There's also a geek-tastic cameo at the end that will make you smile with delight, even though this person is underused at best.
I could wax rhapsodic about this film all night, and I would love to just sit and dissect this film with people who've seen it. I think word of mouth is going to make this film a solid hit for the rest of the month of April, as this was far and away the most diverse audience I've seen in ages. There were young people, old people, men, women, blacks, whites, Asians, every imaginable demographic was represented, and everyone was having a blast, laughing, shouting at the screen, and enjoying a truly fun, communal movie-going experience. That's a rare commodity in this day and age, and I can only hope this film gets the audience it deserves.
So, now that you've seen the film, let's talk... what did you think?
GO Rating: 5/5

[All Photos via Box Office Mojo]