The Cabin in the Woods

Cast:
Kristen Connolly as Dana
Chris Hemsworth as Curt
Anna Hutchison as Jules
Fran Kranz as Marty
Jesse Williams as Holden
Richard Jenkins as Sitterson
Bradley Whitford as Hadley
Brian White as Truman
Amy Acker as Lin
Tim De Zarn as Mordecai
Tom Lenk as Ronald The Intern
Dan Payne as Mathew Buckner
Jodelle Ferland as Patience Buckner
Dan Shea as Father Buckner
Maya Massar as Mother Buckner
Matt Drake as Judah Buckner
Nels Lennarson as Clean Man
Rukiya Bernard as Labcoat Girl

Directed by Drew Goddard

Story:
A group of college students decide to spend the weekend in the woods at a relative’s “country home,” but it turns out to be a creepy log cabin in the woods with a basement filled with mysterious artifacts and a horrible legend about murderous hillbillies, who suddenly come back to life and start killing them. But things aren’t what they seem.

(Note: While we’ve tried to keep this review fairler spoiler-free, “The Cabin in the Woods” is the type of movie you may enjoy more the less you know about it going in.)

Analysis:
Drew Goddard, the one-degree of separation between television geek idols J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon, teams with the latter as co-writer and producer on this reinvention of classic slasher horror films, and as seen in last year’s “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” there’s a lot of room to play with the various archetypes that have been established in a genre that goes back over forty years.

On the surface, “The Cabin in the Woods” is another movie about a group of kids that go on vacation into the woods, staying at a creepy old cabin with a long and dark history before being terrorized by something horrible – in this case, killer hillbilly zombies. The young cast assembled by Goddard and Whedon do a far better job with the material than we might normally expect, delivering their semi-serious dialogue in a way that works on two levels as they’re introduced in a way that makes you think you can guess in which order they’ll be picked off. All the various types are well-represented from the Alpha Male jock Kurt, played by Chris Hemsworth, his blonde bimbo girlfriend Julie (Anna Hutchison), the virginal Dana (Kristen Connolly) and the stoner philosophizer Marty, this one played by Fran Kranz, who brings some of the best laughs to the movie.

That’s just one part of the equation though, as the entire time they’re being observed by a group of scientists doing some unknown experiment that contributes to the kill quota happening back in the woods. If you’re one of the millions who recently watched “The Hunger Games” then this idea of men behind the scenes controlling everything happening to the kids may feel familiar, and it creates a second layer of storytelling that adds a lot more mystery to the type of movie we think we already know. This secondary viewpoint is handled in a far more tongue-in-cheek way due to the presence of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the scientists, basically just doing their job but also trying to keep themselves entertained as they watch the slaughter of the main characters.

The brilliance of Goddard and Whedon’s screenplay is evident in the way they set overused horror clichés on their ear, and once you get past the first half, it starts throwing lots of twists into the formula so you’re never in a place where you know exactly what’s going to happen next. Like most everything Joss Whedon is involved with, “Cabin” is five or six times more clever than it needs to be, but it gives the movie far more depth and weight than the movies it’s lampooning or paying homage to, depending on your perspective. In fact, it’s never quite clear how serious any of it is supposed to be taken, but there’s still plenty of bloodshed and scares amidst the laughs to sate even the most purist of horror fans.

As you might guess, there’s the potential to ruin a lot of the fun by saying too much more about what happens, although it does lead to a fantastic third act where the two stories start coming together in what could only be called a horror fan’s wet dream. While there are a number of places where the movie could have ended and left those fans perfectly happy, it does take things a few steps further to add even more satisfaction.

The Bottom Line
“The Cabin in the Woods” is a fantastically-crafted debut by Goddard with so many moving parts, one would expect a far more experienced director would be necessary to pull it off. In Goddard’s hands, it all comes together quite well, making for a brilliantly clever and genuinely funny take on horror stereotypes that’s a must-see for horror fans as well as offering something new for the cynics who feel they’ve seen everything that can be done with tired and overused horror clichés.

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