In May 2009, co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) completed production on Cabin in the Woods. Starring Fran Kranz (then costarring on Whedon’s not-good-enough series Dollhouse), Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Eat Pray Love), Chris Hemsworth (the not-yet megastar of Thor), and several Whedonites, it was to be a statement on the horror genre devolvement—namely, the latest “torture porn” craze. But when MGM filed for bankruptcy in 2010, its future was left uncertain. After negotiations—and a brief, and gratefully unsuccessful, discussion about converting into 3D—Cabin in the Woods can finally be seen in theaters. And fans of horror and/or Whedon will not be disappointed. Cabin is a smart, genuinely scary film that feels utterly original.
Cabin in the Woods has all the elements you would expect from a classic horror movie: five, hot twenty-somethings, a grizzled, chaw-stained gas station owner with an ominous warning, an isolated cabin, a family of undead, a lake, and a cellar. It also has elements that you wouldn’t expect: two average-looking men (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) and a team of lab-coated personnel that watch and control every moment at the cabin. Yes, there’s sex, but it’s only after the use of a pheromone mist. And yes, they remain trapped at the cabin, but it’s only due to an invisible barrier. Well, a family of undead and an invisible barrier.
This movie is so full of ideas it’s nearly impossible to give anything away. Like, why are the scientists trying to kill these people? And with so much technological sophistication, why does the control room only have buttons and levers? And why is Chris Hemsworth so dreamy? While the answers to these questions won’t necessarily ruin the movie, it will certainly detract from the experience. (Word of advice: avoid Wikipedia’s Cabin in the Woods page. It gives a detailed plot summary—including the ending.) But by having so many ideas, the plot weighs down the movie. The first half of the film is high-adrenaline and genuinely scary; the second half, bogged down with exposition. At times the plot does feel like an idea from an old episode of Buffy. (Which for many Buffy fans, this is welcomed news.)
While Cabin in the Woods will probably not revolutionize the horror cannon (like Evil Dead II or Scream), it will hopefully have a lasting effect: that horror movies can be more than just people trapped in a room being mutilated. Instead, like Drag Me to Hell and Shaun of the Dead, horror films can be intelligent, fun, and scary.
My Grade: B+