Ladies and gentlemen, be sure to hit the head now. Zap a couple bags of popcorn in the microwave, grab some candy, and don’t forget your beverages. Power on your television and switch on your VHS, DVD, or Blu-ray player. It’s time to travel back to revisit movies you’ve heard of, maybe even some you’ve just given no mind to watch at all. It’s time for Be Kind Rewind Theater!
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods looks a tad familiar, no? It’s a horror movie we’ve all seen before, dating all the way back to when Bruce Campbell first played Ash in Evil Dead in 1981. In the years since, horror films and franchises have come and gone. If you can think of any character or specific bastardization of a horror character, at one time audiences probably shelled out money in hopes to be scared shitless. It’s the nature of the business; franchises come and go, but icons never fade.
That is, until someone comes along and finds a new way to shake up the status quo. No other horror film has managed, even to this very day, to delight audiences like this little flick from earlier this decade. Ladies and gents, I present to you – THE CABIN IN THE WOODS!
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon
Starring Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford
By 1996 horror movies were becoming stale and tasteless, that is until Kevin Williamson breathed new life with his film Scream. He, alongside Wes Craven, reinvented the slasher genre with boo-scares and enough gallons of fake blood to keep audiences hooting for more. Eight years later, a little movie called Saw was released and introduced the world to what is known as “torture porn.” But back in 2009, MGM greenlit a movie written by Joss Whedon, who needs no introduction, and Drew Goddard. Goddard had worked with Whedon on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, then went on to find great success with J.J. Abrams on Alias and Lost. That film? The Cabin In The Woods.
The film sat on shelves for three years due to MGM’s bankruptcy and Lionsgate wanting to convert the flick to 3D. (Goddard and Whedon smartly refused.) While the film sat collecting dust, the careers of some of its cast and crew took off. Chris Hemsworth took off after being cast in Thor. Whedon, of course, left his own mark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Marvel’s The Avengers. But when Lionsgate snatched up the rights to this flick in 2010, the studio knew what they were getting into. I bet MGM wished they retained distribution rights – the film doubled its budget and made bank on home video.
The point to all this background? Because before you sit down to watch this movie, you had best remove any notion of what you think you can expect. This is a horror/comedy/satire that is totally NOT what was marketed to audiences. Goddard and Whedon crafted something new and different, a movie that has gone down as a game changer that no other director or writer has ever attempted to conceive in the years since.
I can’t even spoil the plot. I honestly can’t, and I honestly won’t. What you do need to know is that your favorite archetypes from any given horror movie, the five college-aged kids who venture to the cabin in the woods, are present. You’ve got a jock (Hemsworth in what WOULD have been his first major film role), his bimbo girlfriend (Anna Hutchison), the scholar who just happens to be black (Jesse Williams), the innocent girl on the mend (Kristen Connolly), and the pot-smoking dope (Fran Kranz). As you’d guess, yep, the gang is stalked at their cabin, conveniently in the middle of the mountains somewhere in the South. But it’s the reason why this is all happening that is the largest marvel of the movie. If you know the history of any characters created by Joss Whedon or Drew Goddard, then surely you can guess that these folks aren’t what they seem either. And for that, I tip my hat to the narrative develops as the film briskly moves on.
Why yes, early on as the film begins, you’ll see both Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford roaming around. Hell, there’s a couple other cameos I was surprised that were never spoiled either. But the main story of The Cabin In The Woods isn’t what matters most. Even once the body count starts piling up, there’s more at stake than you surmise. The main gist here is part of a much bigger story that drops out of left field and is an absolute delight. If you feel your attention wandering, just go a little bit further. As Cabin progresses, more of the overall plot is revealed to the audience from a whole other point of view. While the story unfolding at the cabin is more straight-laced, the other side of the plot will have you in stitches and keep you guessing what is really going on in the larger perspective.
More importantly, keep this in mind – this is more than just a horror movie. Yes, blood does get spilled. Yes, there are moments you’ll jump or curse into the air. As Cabin runs its course over the 95 minute run time, the tone dramatically shifts. The Cabin In The Woods starts off as a boo-scare horror movie but transitions to more of an adventure/horror hybrid, bouncing from scene to scene to a conclusion that is as definite of an ending that you can ask for. Typically, in any horror movie, you just want the teenagers to get sliced and diced in unique and gory ways for your amusement. You have to expect more from Goddard and Whedon. C’mon, you’ve at least heard of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Maybe you’ve even see Bad Times At The El Royale too, another gem from Goddard. You’ll root for the two main characters as soon as the shit hits the fan and just gets dirtier.
For once, the stoner is actually one of the heroes, alongside the innocent but quick-thinking virgin. Kranz and Connolly lead the pack, playing more than just adolescent dimwits running away from the troubles awaiting them back home. Both are two smart cookies who know something isn’t right even once they get settled into the cabin. They think fast on their feet and react rationally, totally against stereotypes. Neither will win awards for their acting, but their range is better than most to be cast in any horror movie in easily the last decade. The duo do more than just stare past the camera, scream, cry, beg for mercy, and quip cheesy lines. When the time arrives for them to finally stand their ground, you’ll totally root for these lovable underdogs instead.
Goddard and Whedon reference the living hell out of every single horror movie that inspired their script, as much as they can for eagle-eyed fans. You want sight gags that’ll remind you of Hellraiser or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? You got it. The cabin in the middle of nowhere, plus the manner in which Fran Kranz carries himself (you know – a lot like Ash!), is a direct reference to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. The lake the teens travel to for their weekend in the woods – well, hello there, Friday The 13th. George Romero gets a couple of big winks sent his direction, Stephen King too. And there’s even a couple of sequences that proudly show admiration for The Ring and The Grudge. No, not the anemic American remakes, but the original Japanese horror flicks.
As much as I’d like to pull the curtains back on The Cabin In The Woods more, I just don’t have the heart to ruin arguably one of the most original horror films of the last thirty years. I doubt we’ll ever see a movie try to replicate, let alone emulate, what Goddard and Whedon accomplished. Sure, you’ll keep asking yourself what the hell is going on. Just be patient. Your questions do get answered dutifully. By the time the credits roll, you’ll probably be smiling anyway. Have we as movie fans just assumed that the victims in horror films are that idiotic? After you finish Cabin, you have to ask yourself what you truly believe. Frankly, I’ve never look at any horror movie the same ever again. Right now you can easily find this to watch too. Hulu, Amazon, and Epix have the flick available on-demand at the ready. Really though, do yourselves a favor. Drop $5 on picking up the Blu-Ray copy. You won’t regret your decision with this deep breath of fresh air.
And please remember to be kind and rewind after watching – or we’ll have to revoke your membership. Until next time faithful Fandomize fam, you keep reading them and I’ll keep writing them!