The Cabin in the Woods

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Even though I’m not a big fan, a medium sized fan, or even a small fan of horror, I know the tropes. I know the “cabin in the woods” is filled with evil undead monsters, vampires, ghosts, something. I know the attractive blond will venture off alone, becoming the first victim of whatever baddie they unwittingly unleashed. Everyone’s going to get picked off one by one until eventually someone vanquishes the menace or they’re all dead. Horror fans, did I miss anything?

If the film I’m asking about is The Cabin in the Woods, I definitely am missing a lot of things. It’s not a straight up horror film, and thank goodness for that; that ship sailed about twenty years ago. Plus I would not be watching it if it was. Cabin in the Woods is more of a revisionist horror film, one that comments on its own genre and happens to add in a lot of humor as well. For me, that’s way more interesting than an actual horror film. Whedon and Goddard mix things up by having the spooky “cabin in the woods” stuff be controlled by scientists who’s job it is to give people this experience of being scared out of their minds and killed in brutal ways. Fun job. It is explained why, and in doing so they sort of bring back in some horror elements, but the interesting stuff is how not so much why. The real reason why the scientists are there is so Whedon and Goddard can comment on the genre, that’s why.

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Classic setup. Bunch of college kids set off for a weekend of shenanigans in (yup) a “cabin in the woods,” which of course is really creepy. A really creepy guy warns them off going when they stop for gas, doors blow open unexpectedly, there’s a creepy basement full of creepy stuff, and then creepy monsters show up. I might as well just list off the characters because they really are not that important. They are all archetypes, and are even identified as such in the film, and really only one of them is worth talking about. Jules (Anna Hutchinson) is the attractive blond chick that gets killed off first, Curt (Chris Hemsworth) is her attractive boyfriend that gets killed off second, Holden (Jesse Williams) is the “nice guy” that gets killed off third, Dana (Kristin Connolly) is the “nice girl”, and Marty (Fran Kranz) is the comic relief character who is really the only one worth mentioning. First of all, he’s awesome, and second of all he is able to transcend his archetypal classification by not being a total idiot and actually becoming the hero for a short amount of time.

These college kids are mostly pretty boring. They basically, with the exception of Marty, do what you’d expect them to. The cool people are the “puppet masters” who are controlling the situation from below. There are two main guys in charge, and they’re really two peas in a pod. It’s hard to tell them apart in retrospect. They are called Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford), but like I said I can’t remember which was which and I had to look those names up. They bet on what monster the kids are going to choose, which is determined by which creepy basement object they pick up. One of them really wants them to pick the merman, because no one ever picks the merman! It’s pretty funny. Of course, it becomes kind of scary because they’re betting on how these kids will loose their lives. Whatever, it’s all in good fun. Until someone unleashes the monsters on them…. but I’ve said too much.

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So as I said, there are a lot of humorous moments in this film, starting with the title sequence. This is probably the funniest title sequence I have ever seen, even though title sequences don’t really have emotions associated with them. The opening moments of the film are just going along, college kids doing mundane college kid stuff, and then bam! You just get “The Cabin in the Woods” in gigantic blood-red letters smashed up on the screen. It’s so abrupt it’s funny. The humor in the film is like that too, in that the overall story-line isn’t funny but there a lot of little moments like that that are just hilarious.

With all of the messing with the horror genre here, my favorite thing was most definitely with the comic relief character: Marty. First of all, this guy was hilarious. He had the best one-liners of any of the college kids, and was the only one who seemed to know what was going on (besides the scientists obviously). He eventually is able to survive for a good long time, even though by the “rules” of the film he should have been dead long before. I just can’t get over how awesome this guy is, and how Whedon didn’t kill him off the first chance he got!

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Another really great part comes when the scientists are monitoring all of the similar situations going on in other parts of the world. I guess in case one doesn’t work they need back-ups. One such back-up completely fails, and it involves a bunch of Japanese schoolgirls vanquishing a monster by holding hands and singing. It’s the cutest thing ever, and also really hilarious. You need little girls to defeat monsters, let’s just be real here.

The Cabin in the Woods is a really clever piece of revisionist horror; it may have dropped the ball a bit on its justification at the end, but nevertheless it was interesting and fun. I imagine that it might appeal more to horror fans, but I still appreciated the conventions it was commenting on, maybe a little more so because they were being made fun of a little bit. I don’t see this really offending most horror fans though, so if you are one, I’m guessing you’re safe. If you’re not one, you’re still safe. I wasn’t really worried about the characters at all, and the ending didn’t depress me or anything. You can view it as a comedy, and if you do, it’s pretty enjoyable.

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“Ok, I’m drawing a line in the fucking sand. Do NOT read the Latin!”

Long story short: 3/4 stars

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15 responses to “The Cabin in the Woods

  1. Hi, Hunter:

    Excellent perspective and review of a horror film could and should be. And so solidly Whedon!

    Patience is the key here. It starts out like ‘Evil Dead’, but evolves into so high tech drenched and Lovecraftian more. Definitely admire how the “sacrifices” have to perish in the correct order. And how Franz Kranz can be such a burn out on the outside, yet terrier tough on the inside.

    What happens underground and the armed guards and elevator scene steal and seal the film.

    Cthulhu, Godzilla and Zombies, Oh, my!

    Very well done!

    • Ah Joss Whedon. I love how he didn’t direct this but I still think of it as his movie. The power of a good script, ladies and gentlemen.
      Marty was my favorite character, he was so amazing I can’t get over it! I can’t believe he lasted that long!
      Yeah those scientists really ran away with it huh? Besides Marty, everything happening above ground was basically same old same old for the most part.
      Clever take on horror, that’s for sure!

    • Yeah it surprised me big time when you said you hadn’t heard of this.
      I thought all Joss Whedon fans absorbed the personality and memories of Joss Whedon, and would thus know about this film as well as all the other films and tv shows. This comes from college, where being recognized as a fellow Joss Whedon fan, the fan who’s doing the recognizing exclaims “You’re Joss Whedon!” lol. That legit happened in my presence.
      And apparently Marty, the awesome character in this one, is the same actor as Topher on Dollhouse (at least I think I’m getting that right…). Apparently that’s a good thing.

  2. Wonderful write-up. I recently re-watched this (not long after seeing the ‘Evil Dead’ remake) got another kick out of the piece. Well done, Hunter.

    • Awesome! This is a fun movie. I can’t handle straight up horror though, I’m afraid. I’m going to try to get some of them around Halloween this year, but probably more of the psychological ones. So yeah, no Evil Dead for me, at least not quite yet. I liked this though, lots of fun.
      Thanks for the compliment and thanks for stopping by! Guessing you came from FMR… good sign that that’s paying off!

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