Most of the hype around this movie is about two things: how it defies (or plays with) conventions of the horror movie genre; and how it took (courtesy of the fall of studios) three years to see the light of movie screens. I don’t have much to say about the second topic, but the first is what drew me to the film. I’ve never been a fan of horror movies, but ever since I had my socks knocked off by the original Scream, I have given horror movies a chance whenever I hear that they are doing something clever and different with the genre. Even from the movie trailer, you know that Cabin in the Woods is a bit different. Ostensibly about a group of nubile, killer-bait college students who head out for a party-hearty weekend at the titular cabin in the woods, things are not going to be what they seem. I will not spoil anything about this movie except to say that even from the very first scene it’s obvious that this movie turns the typical slasher pic so much on its head that you can read its shoe-size.
Producer/co-writer and geek god, Joss Whedon has his fingerprints all over this movie (and that’s a good thing) despite handing the directing reins over to Whedon acolyte and co-writer Drew Goddard. Goddard has been a writer for the Whedonverse since Buffy and Angel after which he crossed over into that other geek-friendly universe created by JJ Abrams when he wrote and co-produced on Alias, Lost, and the movie Cloverfield. Going back to Whedon, he has been known to occasionally (more like always) bring his favourite talent along with him on projects. Much to my fanboy delight, this time we get some of my absolute faves from the ‘verse: Amy Acker as a chemist, Tom Lenk as a newbie intern, and Fran Kranz as a pot-smoking cabin victim. Simply put, this movie had my $8 from the get-go.
The script is also pure Whedon (or at least Whedonesque), with its intelligent humour, self-referential winking, and generous dosing of pop-culture references (especially from the horror genre). Again, without revealing too much, this movie brought back wonderful memories of Buffy episodes past (or more accurately, this movie has a similar trajectory to a season of Angel — you’ll know what I mean when you watch the movie). The new kids all play to the typical horror conventions. Their characters are the iconic/archetypal characters that we’ve known and watched die (though there’s definitely a knowing and loud wink from the creators about all this). Kranz plays his character Marty as his usual uber-sarcastic, sardonically hilarious self. He’s almost the same character that he played in the TV series Dollhouse, but without the super-genius or the veneer of amorality. Chris Hemsworth is also here as the alpha male jock. Surprisingly, his performance is much better and more interesting in this movie than he was as the comic book thunder god Thor in his movie-starring debut (remember, this was filmed before Thor, but was put on ice because of studio problems).
When the horror movie plot kicks in, it’s what you’d expect: a dip in the lake, Truth or Dare, a scary dark cellar… It’s after it checks off the horror tropes and still keeps going that this movie calls itself out as something different and interesting. The West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford, and Oscar-nominee Richard Jenkins are wonderfully understated and funny as a pair of technicians (I can’t reveal why there are technicians involved) overseeing the cabin. Plus, Sigourney Weaver seems to be making a second career out of making “surprise” cameos in genre movies. Unfortunately, if you know it’s a Whedon story and you’re expecting something reminiscent of Angel, that might pre-dispose you to expect the unexpected and the plot may not be as much of a surprise to you (at least that’s how I felt). Nevertheless, it’s still awesome fun and a great ride. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it only made me want to dig out my Angel DVDs and pop them in the machine. (4.5 out of 5)