Pulpy, loopy, fiendishly clever, and deceitfully insightful, The Cabin in the Woods is a wickedly smart and outrageously entertaining subversion of the horror genre, a love/hate letter to Sam Raimi and his predecessors, with a conclusion that’s awesomely bonkers.
The setup is generic. Five college students, including Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Kristen Connolly (House of Cards), pack up an RV for a weekend getaway in a menacing cabin in the woods. The clichés come at an onslaught pace: a hot co-ed makes out with a wolf head in a truth-or-dare; a perpetual stoner is comic relief and has a caffeine-inspired knack for hiding his bong from the cops; a cryptic gas station owner mumbles into a telephone.
But director Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and fellow co-writer/producer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) have a plan: to revitalize the slasher film and rescue it from the greasy hands of torture porn. To do so, they have to skewer stereotypes and supplant expectations while reminding audiences why we’ve loved horror ever since we became terrified of getting knifed in the shower, giving birth to demonic spawn, or being eaten by sharks.
As such, The Cabin in the Woods is a deliciously devious hybrid mutation, a sly twist on a narrative that people love to hate. It indulges and reverses and embraces all angles of the monster movie marathon, and pokes fun at everything from the signature imagery of Japanese horror to the requisite nudity and the dangers of having sex within the confines of a horror movie.
It’s a naked declaration of intent, as we’re primed to distrust the character archetypes and invited to knowingly engage in the act of watching extravagantly choreographed butchery. Then, in a third act of malevolent mayhem, it goes for broke and gleefully shoves the gothic, the ghastly, and the gruesome down viewers’ throats.
The Cabin in the Woods never forgets what it is: a throwback to more creative horror storytelling, a walking contradiction that deconstructs and celebrates a tired genre, an explanation of that genre’s inconsistencies and a defense for its existence. As the characters march towards their inevitable demise, Sigourney Weaver lays bare the reasons for the eternal struggles of the Whore, the Athlete, the Scholar, the Fool, and the Virgin.
Let’s face it, unless you’re a Buffy fan or someone who lives to frolic through Whedon-land, many will conclude – based on the most surface of plot descriptions – that its cocky, kooky, meta undercurrent is not for them. You would have a point: The Cabin in the Woods is never profoundly scary, seldom deeply involving, and practically constructed of loose ends.
But it’s zestful, surprising, and unique, and after years of painfully dull retreads, that counts for a lot. It will be difficult to experience another slasher without picturing Richard Jenkins’ and Bradley Whitford’s chemically-induced machinations behind the scenes. Discover the secret of the cabin in this perverse knockout, and preferably sooner rather than later, because after nearly a century of bumps in the night, horror has nowhere to go but down.