Thanks to a friend with connections in the industry, I got to see The Cabin in the Woods a couple of weeks before its release on Friday the 13th. It’s been killing me not to post something about it, because:
- I absolutely loved it.
- The official trailer seems like it spoils the entire premise of the movie, but I’ll assure you that it doesn’t.
- This is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that genuinely kept me guessing, so avoid watching or reading anything else about it before you see it.
Because Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s names are on the movie, it’s pretty much guaranteed an audience from fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Cloverfield. I hope it goes even wider than that, though, because it’s really smart and a hell of a lot of fun. It reminded me a little bit of Drag Me to Hell — a fairly slick Hollywood production that somehow retains the swagger of a low-budget indie.
So yeah, don’t watch or read anything about it, starting NOW.
For anyone who’s already seen it — or anyone who for whatever reason still needs to be convinced — my take on it is after the spoiler safety jump.
Even more than Drag Me to Hell, the tone of the movie reminded me of Angel. No big surprise there, of course, since Goddard directed and co-wrote it with Whedon. But what did surprise me is how they finally managed to make the schtick work.
Because I tried over and over to get into Angel, and I always went away disappointed. The concept was solid enough: taking the monsters of fantasy, religion, and folklore, and setting them against not just modern technology, but modern sensibilities. The problem was that they seemed so pleased with themselves for coming up with the concept, they never bothered to do anything with it. It was most often reduced to a clumsy joke: “you think demons are scary? You’ve never dealt with Hollywood lawyers!”
The Cabin in the Woods takes the idea that Whedon’s tried so many times (including with an entire season of Buffy) and finally gets it right: jaded members of a centuries-old shadow organization with advanced technology, pitted against a group of self-aware young people.
Even better, it’s not too self-aware. It hits a lot of the same points as Scream, but it’s almost casual about it: no explicit declarations of “Look how much life is imitating art because we have become characters in a horror movie.” Instead, the movie just assumes throughout that we’re all part of the same pop culture, we’ve all seen the same movies and TV shows, and the audience is plenty aware of what’s going on.
And after saying all this, I haven’t even spoiled the movie yet. I’d gone in convinced that I was smarter than the dopes advertising this movie, the big premise had already been revealed by the trailer, and I knew exactly how it was all going to play out. But instead of starting with the slow burn of college kids gearing up for spring break, we get two awesome character actors riding a golf cart through some kind of industrial complex. It’s like the movie is telling us from the first frame: “Yeah, we know exactly what you thought this was going to be. It’s not. Shut up and watch.”
And then, to drive the point home, a perfect B-movie title card.
The movie defied my expectations over and over again, giving a twist where I hadn’t expected one or denying one where I was sure I had it figured out. At no point did I feel like I could figure out how the movie was going to end.
And I get the sense that they couldn’t, either, since it just kind of peters out. Also, I got the impression that the big guest star reveal towards the end was supposed to have more weight than it did. (Especially since Paul already did the exact same thing, and it didn’t pay off there like they expected it to, either).
But that’s all I’ve got to complain about. It was genuinely scary in places, genuinely funny throughout. It finally delivered on the premise of Post Modern Horror Movie without sacrificing too much of the horror movie or being insufferably self-aware in the post-modernism. And best of all, it’s finally a fun horror movie that treats the characters and the audience as if we’re all at least as smart as the filmmakers.