Way back in 1999 there was that little surprise hit called The Sixth Sense. Everyone was talking about it, but no one was spoiling it for those who hadn’t seen it yet. I finally got around to seeing it at the end of its theatrical run and was absolutely dumbfounded at what I witnessed. Not so much about the big reveal, but that I hadn’t heard a peep about it. Of course that was like, 40 billion years ago and technology isn’t what it is today. Nowadays I can’t even log on to Twitter without having an episode of The Walking Dead spoiled for me even though it had just ended 2 minutes prior and I was just getting ready to start it. It’s because of this reason, that I actually braved the theater on a Friday night, and paid full price to see Cabin in the Woods opening day.
This film has endured a little trouble getting to the big screen. It’s been completed for over two years but was caught up in the MGM bankruptcy debacle. Now we finally get to see just what all the hub bub bub was about and after watching the first trailer, I immediately went on a self-imposed black out. That one trailer actually showed way more than I would have liked, but I guess you have to entice the audience somehow right? You may have heard others say that it’s best to go into this film knowing as little about it as possible. Let me tell you, that is 100% true. In keeping with the spirit, I will do my damnedest to keep this as spoiler free as possible.
Just to get the necessary stuff out-of-the-way, Cabin in the Woods follows five college co-eds as they make for a weekend retreat to a……well, a cabin in the woods. After some swimming, some boozing and a game of truth or dare, and a trip into the scary basement, the group finds that things are not quite what they seem and are soon fighting for their lives against forces that are way way way beyond their control.
Yes I know, it sounds like your typical kids-go-to-the-woods-get-drunk-sexed-up-and-die formula, but I’ll tell you what, this film does anything BUT play to formula. Or, actually it does, but not in the way that you’d think. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (who also served as Director), the film could be seen as an allegory for present day horror movies and their audience. The script hosts some tight dialogue with what I’m sure are nods to all sorts of other Whedon material, but since I’m new to the Whedon-verse, I’m not quite familiar with all the ins and outs of his work. I never watched Buffy, and still haven’t seen Firefly or Serenity, but I have watched all of Dollhouse. You could say I’m working backwards I guess. Regardless, the duo have delivered material that, on the surface, plays out like every other horror movie out there. But instead of showing the audience the same old song and dance, they pull back the curtain and tell us why.
The film stars Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth (pre-Thor), Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams as the typical good girl, jock, hottie, stoner, and nerdish guy respectively. But within the film’s opening moments, you’ll realize these are not your father’s horror movie characters. There is a bit more depth to them that a lot of other horror films lack and even though you don’t get a detailed back-story on any of them, you end up caring what happens to them. The supporting cast also includes familiar faces in Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Amy Acker and some of the best part of the film are delivered by them.
While this film does play to formula, it’s done in a way that says “hey, we know….and we know that you know we know, so we’re going to throw this in here instead. HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?” There are ample nods to things that you’ll no doubt recognize, most notable for me were nods to Evil Dead, which made me smile. Horror film enthusiasts may feel some disappointment because this film isn’t really “scary” per se. Perhaps that’s just me, because I rarely find things super scary. But this film plays it smart and slowly unfolds instead of giving the audience all of the information up front.
I mentioned that I actually went to see this film on opening night. Dealing with a packed theater is just not my idea of fun. Although I did get some joy seeing an entire row of kids get kicked out of their D-Box seats because they didn’t pay for D-Box tickets. That was pretty cool, but I digress. Full theaters normally equate to having to deal with a bunch of assholes who just want to text the whole time. Surprisingly, the crowd in this theater were all pretty enthralled with the film so that right there should tell you something. And honestly, I think seeing this film with a full-ish theater is really the way to go. As much as I hate to attach this word to film, I don’t have much choice. Cabin in the Woods was fun damn it. Lots and lots of fun. Blood spurting all over the place, limbs flying fun.
Cabin in the Woods manages to both prove and dispel what you know and expect from the horror movie genre. It plays to type, yet turns around throws that in your face, along with a couple of fingers here and there. It’s a delicate balance they’ve managed to acquire and one that should be appreciated because like The Sixth Sense, the reveal can only be done once.