As I’m about to write this review, I wonder: Is what I’m about to say really going to change your mind about seeing The Cabin in the Woods? Either you’ve been waiting for it for years or don’t care.
So, I will try to speak to those who plan to see it, but haven’t. To that end, this is a spoiler-free review… and man will that be tough!
To write a spoiler-free review would mean saying essentially nothing because there is a lot going on in this movie.
So here goes…
First of all, it is a horror movie in the generic sense. There is blood, violence and horrific deaths. But, like everything from Halloween to the latest slasher flick de jour, that also means there are scenes played for laughs. Let’s keep in mind this comes from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard. Considering their credentials (Lost, Alias, Buffy, Angel, Cloverfield) they have done great work in horror that thrills, entertains and amuses us.
Second, despite rumours, there is not a twist ending. At least, not in the M. Night Shyamalan sense of a twist ending. From the trailers, you know there is an elevator and a control room. The “twist” people might be talking about is the reveal of what these things have to do with the cabin. But it is no more a twist than who the killers are in the original Friday the 13th or Psycho. It’s more of a reveal.
Third, this is a post-modern film. It knows it is a horror movie, knows what the audience has come to expect (and can predict) and plays with those assumptions.
That is to say, while it follows the usual horror tropes (because it is a 90-minute horror film about college kids partying at a cabin in the woods), it also examines those same tropes. While Scream used hip, meta sensibilities to hold a mirror up to the horror genre, The Cabin in the Woods takes a step back at what might be behind or beyond or through the horror clichés. Is it We-the-Audience? The suits-at-the-studio that get in the way of the creative-types and insist on the same old formula? Cthulhu?
(As an aside, if you’ve seen the trailer you know there is a one-way mirror gag. I wonder if this is a subtle way of hinting at The Cabin in the Woods’ self-awareness. One side reflects, one side sees through.)
To say any more on this point would enter spoiler territory, but I will say this: Pay attention to the opening credits. They are important and might give you a clue as to where the movie is going and what it’s really about. Oh, and there is not a post-credits bonus scene, but Nine Inch Nails’ “Last” does play over the credits, which sounds awesome on theatre speakers.
Another example of The Cabin in the Woods’ awareness of being a horror movie comes from two scenes that will have you reaching for the remote to freeze-frame (assuming you watch on Blu-Ray). No spoilers on what they are, but if you see it with a horror fan you will be talking about these two scenes after the movie to compare what you saw.
All-in-all, The Cabin in the Woods is a smart, funny and gory horror movie. Go see it in the theater. It has everything fans of horror movies could want. But, I will say it might disappoint hardcore horror fans. This is not Saw or Hostel. It isn’t looking to re-invent horror, but rather stick a finger in the eye of the same-ole “horror” movies with which true fans of the genre have become exhausted.
But, for fans of the genre who like to discuss and ponder rather than passively consume, it has several layers of disquieting questions it poses to the audience. Aside from Scream, The Cabin in the Woods evokes both Community and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon in taking viewers on a trip that examines the form while obeying the form, and at no time taking the viewer out of the movie. In other words, this is not some boring art-house film. It kicks ass.
I’ll close by inviting you to consider the ending of the film and if you were satisfied with the choice the characters made. And, what shape do you think a sequel to The Cabin in the Woods would take? Scream understood the importance and clichés of horror movie sequels. Could we see a Return to the Cabin in the Woods? [Fair warning: I reserve the right to edit any comments to keep this spoiler free.]
If there is no sequel, I can only hope this film convinces some studio somewhere to give Joss Whedon a bucket of money so he can make that rumored Buffy remake himself.