Everybody likes to be in on an inside joke, but so many horror films have hopped onto the bandwagon of self-awareness that the joke itself may be getting tired. If anyone could reinvigorate the concept, it’s Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, and that’s what these savvy collaborators try to do in The Cabin in the Woods.
The setup is achingly familiar: five college pals head to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. There’s a hot blonde, a jock, an egghead, a pothead, etc. The roles are well-cast, and the creepy atmosphere is just as it should be, with one addition, another layer that reveals that these essentially nice young people have been set up. They’re being manipulated.
That’s all I can say without drifting into spoiler territory; I haven’t revealed more than you can glean from the trailer. And I haven’t begun to hint at where this movie goes, because it is pretty well unimaginable.
The question is how much fun you’ll derive along the way. If you’re a fan who’s grown up on self-referential horror films, from Scream on down the line, you’re a prime candidate. And if you’re a Joss Whedon enthusiast from Buffy onward, you’re already on board. But if you like your horror films to be genuinely scary, as opposed to ironic and self-reflexive, you may stop short of unbridled enthusiasm. I fall into the latter category. (In fact, in spite of the bloody gore on display, and my self-confessed wimpiness, I wasn’t scared while watching the film. That’s not a good reaction to a horror movie.)
In the press notes for The Cabin in the Woods, producer-writer Whedon and Goddard, who co-authored the screenplay and directed the picture, talk about the reasons they wanted to explore this brand of horror film.
Says Whedon, “There’s some part of us, some deep, dark, primitive part of us that wants to sacrifice these people onscreen. I wanted to make a movie that explained why. And so it’s been a strange experience because on the one hand, we do straight up horror. We definitely love the genre and the tropes of the genre but at the same time we have a lot of questions about why and where it’s going.”
Goddard adds, “The horror movie is merely the jumping-off point for the inherent questions about humanity that the genre suggests. Why, as a people, do we feel the need to marginalize, objectify, and destroy youth? And this is not specific to the genre, or movies in general, or our present-day culture. We’ve been doing this to youth since we first began as a people and this question—the question of why—is very much at the heart of Cabin.”
This is meaty stuff, meatier than most horror films would even attempt to confront, yet I don’t think Cabin in the Woods achieves its stated goal. The ritualistic aspect of the film is fun but overly familiar, the filmmakers’ attitude is a little too snarky, and the climax is so off-the-wall that it seemingly contradicts the thoughtful questions raised by its creators. Only the last few moments hint at the true darkness of their concept.
Is The Cabin in the Woods the greatest thing to happen to the horror genre, as some enthusiasts have claimed? I don’t think so. It’s a clever attempt to emulate, parody, and subvert the genre all at once—but it’s only partially successful.
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray and Digital Download..