I love a good horror movie. But there’s no denying that the horror genre has been struggling and just isn’t as strong as it used to be. Well leave it to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard to take the genre, turn it on its head, and give it a good shake. Their film “The Cabin in the Woods” is far from conventional even though it certainly starts that way. But the fact is Whedon and Goddard are setting up the audience for what turns out to be a horror comedy that ranges from satirical to a full-blown critique of what the horror genre has become. Goddard directs, Whedon produces, and both write this bit of welcomed freshness that isn’t a perfect film but it certainly works on many levels.
It’s impossible to watch “The Cabin in the Woods” without seeing tips of the hat to several horror movie classics. You’ll also quickly recognize many of the same tropes and devices used in the genre for years. Whedon and Goddard dabble in the familiar territory of slasher movies, zombie flicks, ghost stories, torture porn, and even creature features. But its simply impossible to go into much detail without spoiling the film. Let’s just say that all of these ingredients fit very well into what “The Cabin in the Woods” is trying to do. And trust me, you’ll start out in very familiar territory but things quickly change as the story progresses.
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: five college friends set out to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying and frolicking. We have the big jock (Chris Hemsworth), the sultry blonde (Anna Hutchison), the studious good guy (Jesse Williams), the dope head (Fran Kranz), and the straight-laced, level-headed heroine (Kristen Connolly). These are all characters we’ve seen over and over in horror films. But here they are used intentionally and with good reason. Obviously their little getaway isn’t going to end well and we get little hints of that along the way. As things begin to go bad, we see these characters making some of the same bone-headed decisions that they always make in these pictures. But the bigger difference here is with the consequences and more specifically who’s behind them. That’s as far as I’m willing to go in describing the story. It’s best to go into the film simply knowing that there is more to it than what you’re introduced to. Just know that things go nuts in the final act and the audience, especially horror fans, will find it an entertaining challenge to process all that we are given.
But the movie does have a few issues that keep it from being a great film. The most glaring issue for me was with the gaping plot holes scattered throughout the story. There were instances where the film changed course while leaving unfinished business behind . There are also a couple of times where certain characters drop off the map. I know I’m being incredibly vague here for fear of spoiling things, but let’s just say the story requires you to sometimes brush aside what seems like useful information. The ending also requires a very abrupt acceptance of what you’re seeing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lots of fun and it will have you wanting to watch the movie again. But it’s so out-of-the-blue that when the credits start to roll you have to accept what you’ve seen and just go with it.
I didn’t mention one of “The Cabin in the Woods” strongest features – it’s humor. There are some really funny moments in this picture and I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. On the flip side, the movie isn’t scary at all which I found to be a bit disappointing. But then I asked myself if Whedon and Goddard cared if it was scary or not. In the end, this is one part homage and one part critique of a genre that has seen better days. Looking at the movie from that perspective makes it a very satisfying horror experience. And even though it stumbles with its storytelling in a few places, the undeniable freshness, good humor, and blood-soaked final act make it all worthwhile.