Film Review: “Cabin In The Woods” Doesn’t Leave You Out in the Cold
Forget what you’ve heard about “Cabin In The Woods.” The stuff about it being a mind-bending genre experiment that you shouldn’t know anything about is press-packet hokum that critics have gobbled up. I can see “Cabin” becoming an instant victim of hype backlash, which is a shame, because it is actually one of the cleverest and most well-realized satires I’ve seen in recent memory.
Imagine last month’s film series’s “Tucker and Dale,” but with a parallel story that replaces droll hillbilly tomfoolery with Whedonesque banter and tightly structured meta-horror. We get the self-consciously archetypal Scooby Doo gang ready to get slaughtered: jock, slut, ethnic nerd, good girl, and a performance by Fran Kranz as the requisite stoner who quickly moves from annoying to hall-of-fame worthy. They take a trip to the cabin in question, which turns out to be monitored by bureaucrats in a top-secret facility (given an Aaron-Sorkin-meets-Office-Space vibe by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford). Like a twisted take on “The Sims,” the techs start to control events in ways that bring out horror-movie clichés in the main characters and ultimately lead them to ironic, graphic demises.
Right away, it’s clear that “Cabin” is less of a horror movie than a series of inside jokes that writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon ’87 have accumulated over decades of promo-genre screenwriting. Like the best Joss Whedon scripts, it’s self-aware to the brink of obnoxiousness, but still smart and fast enough to make you feel grateful. Whedon’s ability to draw instantly likable characters really shows in how he raises the teens above their clichés: the dumb jock and slut are sociology majors, and the idiot stoner is actually pretty sharp (happy 4/20, everybody).
Second to Kranz is Chris Hemsworth’s alpha male: Thor might get typecast as a meathead, but like Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street,” he wows with the sharp wit and a depth of emotion he successfully brings to a staid character. “Cabin” succeeds on its characters and narrative drive over the scares, which are (ironically) repetitive and generic; it’s only in the twisty second half that Whedon and Goddard let their brilliantly dumb imaginations run wild, delivering an instant classic of a Grand Guignol I can’t wait to see again.
Like many of the things I’ve studied at Wesleyan, “Cabin” makes you feel smart for understanding your own idiocy. Its analysis of horror’s appeal is a little too reliant on ’80s classics instead of more modern tropes (there are some great jabs at J-Horror, though); but like Fajita Night at Usdan, it’s the rare delicious thing with a little bite. Put it on your Wesleyan Pride checklist.