Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando and Jason Umpleby
This will probably be the trickiest review I write considering I have to be quite careful of venturing into spoiler territory. Let’s start with this: there’s a cabin in the woods; five college students arrive to party it up over the weekend; chaos ensues. Sounds familiar right? Well, it is and it isn’t. The film, written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, directed by Goddard, tries to turn the conventions of a typical horror film on it’s head (or does it) and give us something we’re not expecting. There’s the jock, Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the ditzy blonde, Jules (Anna Hutchison), the stoner, Marty (Fran Kranz), the scholar, Holden (Jesse Williams) and the virgin, Dana (Kristen Connolly). Based on all of these character types, we can guess who will die first (or can we?). At the same time, we’re shown two technicians, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) who seem to be setting the events with the cabin in motion. I’ve probably revealed more than I should already.
I had been waiting for The Cabin In The Woods to come out since January of 2010. I’m a fan (not a huge fan, but a fan nonetheless) of Joss Whedon (and to all my fellow browncoats) and was interested to see what he would do with a familiar horror story. I was really looking forward to seeing how Drew Goddard would do from a directing standpoint. I have been more of a fan of Goddard’s work (he’s floated through many more of my favorite shows than Whedon) for the past few years and after seeing Cloverfield, a film that he wrote, I wanted to see what else he would do in the film world in addition to his already impressive television work.
Cabin kind of feels like a lackluster version of an already successful genre. Say what you will about horror. Like any genre sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t, but when it does, you remember it. For horror, in the last decade, I don’t think any film has left me more emotionally scarred than The Ring. More recently, the Paranormal Activity Films worked, scaring us in the simplest (but not cheapest) of ways. Every few years films like those come along and really find a new way to scare us. Then for years after that it’s done over and over again until something new comes our way. Why am I going on and on about this? Because The Cabin In The Woods promotes itself as being one of these films; something that will change how we perceive horror. Let me be in the minority by saying that this film does not succeed.
I was hoping that it would take an approach that, I guess, explained why these types of characters exist in movies. They explain the character types within the universe they create in the film, which when it’s revealed what’s really going on I simply said, “seriously?” Maybe that approach would work in another film, but I would argue that Whedon and Goddard should have taken the Scream route and acknowledged the fact that this stuff happens in almost every horror film. I don’t think (don’t quote me) the words “film” or “movie” are mentioned once and for a revisionist approach such as this one, they need to be.
Watching this film reminded me of better films in this specific category of horror, The Evil Dead, Friday The 13th, and yes, as twisted as it is, Antichrist. The Cabin In The Woods is basically Whedon and Goddard’s attempt (yes, attempt) at putting their spin on horror. There’s a degree of affection for the genre, which I appreciate, but it just takes itself too seriously. It wants to point out elements of the genre that we know about, but then tries to one-up those elements and kills its own impact in the process.
I wanted to love this movie. I wanted to praise both Whedon and Goddard. Whedon gets another chance with The Avengers in a few weeks. I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer to see if Goddard has the directing chops to last in film.