I’ve been trying to put this review together for over a week now. So far: NOTHING. I could not be more stuck. See, this isn’t a case of me being lazy (well...); it’s that I have absolutely no idea how to do this. I won’t beat around the bush, though. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods is fantastic. Like: holy crap this is great and should really be seen in the cinema good.
But there’s hardly anything I can actually write about. Okay, that’s a lie. With this horredy, there’s loads to discuss, but going into details would spoil what has quickly turned out to be one of the most startling and original horror films ever released. If I, even accidentally, spoiled just one of Cabin’s many surprises for someone, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Simple as that.
Setting hyperbole aside for a paragraph, what can I tell you about? Only what the trailer already has, I’m afraid, and in the grand scheme of things... that was next to nothing.
In any case, this part should sound familiar. Five absurdly photogenic college students, all well into their twenties, head off to a remote woodland cabin where it’s not long before the cellar door flings open of its own volition and their trip goes a bit Evil Dead. But here comes the fun part: while all this is going on, a team of morally perplexing office workers operating in a mysterious hi-tech facility are watching them, and are orchestrating the whole event, Truman Show style, right down to the last gory detail.
And that’s where I draw the line on story details. If you want more, go look it up on Wikipedia (but don’t because you’ll hate yourself for it). But needless to say, Cabin takes something very familiar, and then flips it on its head with neck-breaking force. For every moment where you think ‘Oh yeah, I know how this’ll turn out’, there’ll be at least two more shocking instances of the ‘Did NOT see that coming, Brotato!’ variety.
The characters are a great example of this genre-bending. As you’d expect, they fit all the necessary stereotypes (jock, stoner, prince charming, bookish girl, not... so bookish girl). But this isn’t clichéd writing. In fact, it’s crucial to the plot. What’s more, while they may resemble the same group from your least favourite Friday the 13th sequel, they’re likeable. With most potential horror victims, you can’t wait for the nail gun-wielding maniac to finish them off. Here, you should find yourself actually sympathising with them. Shocking, I know, and again I can’t go into why.
Although the quality of Goddard and Whedon’s script certainly helps. Dialogue never feels forced, and even when the obligatory horror lines are reeled off, it works in context of the story. The many scenes spent with the two lead omniscient technicians (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) might well be Cabin’s highlights. Rather than present them as power-hungry mad scientists, they just act like regular office co-workers. The completely businesslike approach they take to their gruesome “job” works brilliantly, and their free flowing banter not only entertains, but gradually reveals more of the sinister truth behind the sterile facility.
Tonally, Cabin succeeds in striking a fine balance between horror and comedy. The latter mostly derives from the aforementioned screenwriting, while there’s plenty of gooey practical effects fun to be found when things get nasty. Most of Cabin’s scares are of the jumpy type, however, and true to form, you’ll spot imminent jolts well ahead of schedule. But even these are handled efficiently, guaranteed to incur frustrated ‘Don’t stand there...’ groans (as is tradition), and a couple pay loving homage to similar moments from horror classics.
Now, how am I supposed to discuss the climax without letting on any concrete info? Pretty hard, but I’ll give it a stab. Assuming you still haven’t seen Cabin, there’s a fair chance you’ve heard excited whispers concerning the magnitude of its final act... ‘cos it’s a biggie. Right up there with the climactic lawnmower massacre from Braindead. Goddard and Whedon simultaneously serve up everything a horror junkie could possibly hope for, along with nothing they’d ever realistically expect. Cabin’s final twenty or so minutes goes all-out in budget stretching style, with any enjoyment only being hampered by a smidgen of sadly ropey CGI. Quibbles and spoilers aside, it’s a real goregy.
The Cabin in the Woods was filmed in 2009, but due to the near-implosion of MGM, it ended up sitting on the back burner until just a couple of weeks ago. You could say it’s been worth the wait. Cabin has been described as equal parts love letter and hate mail to the horror genre, and its ability to revel in familiar genre clichés while simultaneously giving them a kick in the pants does give that assertion credence. However you want to look at Cabin, you’re unlikely to come away disappointed. It’s a bold new entry in horror cinema, and one that’s bound to stand the test of time.
And that's all I've got. Spoilers, etc.