105 min., dir. by Drew Goddard, with Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, and Richard Jenkins
Stop me when you’ve heard this one before: a group of teenagers stay at a remote cabin the woods and are hunted down and killed one-by-one by someone, or something. The trailers for The Cabin in the Woods promise something different for the audience, and while they certainly deliver on that promise, it’s not what anyone will expect. Even with this “fresh” take on the “stranded teens” plot, The Cabin in the Woods oozes from the same holes as its predecessors.
Dana (Kristen Connolly) is fresh out of a relationship, and her friends want to show her a good time. Dragging Dana off to a secluded cabin in the woods (purportedly owned by one of their cousins) and trying to set her up with a clean-cut football star creates the perfect atmosphere for the a wild weekend of booze, sex, drugs…and murder.
For some reason, though, there is a group of government scientists who are watching the teens’ movements very closely. The extent of their surveillance is endless, and they even have control over the environments around and in the cabin. As each member of the group begins to display strange character changes, the mystery men behind the cameras do all in their power to force the group into the cellar. There’s something important in the cellar that awakens an evil presence in the woods, and these young students will stop at nothing to survive.
So what is it about The Cabin in the Woods that sets it apart from other horror films? Well, for starters, it’s more of a comedy than anything else. The entire film is one large lambasting of the genre, and serves as a vehicle for one outlandishly mesmerizing final act. The Cabin in the Woods is not unlike Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil — it takes everything you are used to in the scenario and either turns it on its head or simply mocks it. The “let’s go out and back-handedly honor the films we loved as kids” approach has been done before — only this time it’s delivered with a larger budget and penned by fan favorites Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.
The use of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the hijinx duo of old-school control room operators separates the mix a bit, playing more like a sitcom than a satire. Their presences in a normal horror film would act as a breather for the audience between heart-racing jumps and scares. Instead, they’re a break from the overtly obvious jokes about what you would find in a scary cabin resting in the middle of the woods. The best laughs the movie has to offer happen away from that cabin.
Somewhere, things just become too disjointed. The overall storyline that originates in the control bunker wants to have a semblance of a poignant message, but nothing is fully explored. There never is a clear understanding of why the events take place in the manner they do, and often, the attempts at an explanation are contradictory. This is more a labor of love, so it’s slightly forgivable, though for a film that seems to play off a genre’s redundant foils, you’d think they would make a solid story.
Everything that happens in the first two acts of The Cabin in the Woods is just a thinly-veiled plot to get the audience to the grand finale, and grand it is. But is it really worth the poorly explored themes and a haphazardly devised plot? For most everyone, yes it is, but that doesn’t allow the shortcomings to skate by unnoticed.