The horror genre clings onto and feeds off of audience expectations. From a fan perspective, horror-lovers tend to flock to films that appear as if they will evoke the feelings of previous successes, even to the point of supporting blatant mimicry. From a filmmaking perspective, a horror director’s go-to card is expectation—the audience recognizing those classic audio and visual clues that create the anticipation of a scare.
The entire horror genre is built on the foundation of what we think will happen, so when “The Cabin in the Woods” comes along and utilizes these expectations while also blowing the roof completely off them, it makes for a wildly entertaining success.
Sure, some folks will want a run-of-the-mill “cabin in the woods” story, the one we’ve seen a thousand times thanks to paragons “Friday the 13th” and “The Evil Dead” among others. “The Cabin in the Woods” might let down those purists who rank the scare factor as top priority, but for fans of parody and satire, this is a must-see.
The minds behind the film suggest a certain intelligence you won’t find in horror offerings from amateurs. Drew Goddard, writer of “Cloverfield” and on TV’s “Lost,” and Joss Whedon, one of the most revered names in geek culture, team up on a script that delivers a great deal of wit and at the same time a strong mystery, a combination that makes for an irrepressibly exciting movie.
“The Cabin in the Woods” requires a certain amount of aversion to spoilers in order to be fully enjoyed, though so many unsuspected twists crop up that a few details won’t actually ruin anything. Essentially, five college kids head to a remote cabin for the weekend and predictably ignore some tell-tale signs that something’s amiss. The catch is that despite seeing this setup before, we as an audience don’t even quite know what’s going on this time around. The fact that the film doesn’t open on a cabin, woods, or college kids is your first hint.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has nothing do with the plot: the young protagonists are somewhat likable and the actors portraying them have a good deal of talent. Nearly everyone will recognize Chris Hemsworth (Thor himself) as Curt, but the highlights are unknowns Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz as Dana and Marty, one an attractive bookworm and the other a clever stoner. The characters fit your horror stereotypes, but each with a bit of a twist that makes them more respectable. Even the “dumb blonde” (Anna Hutchison) isn’t that dumb as she cares about her friends. Heck, the fact that these five would all be friends is kind of a jab at stereotypes.
Strong writing reinforces the fact that these are more developed characters and shows Goddard and Whedon recognize that even though the goal is to turn the genre upside down, their film still needs to do the things good horror films do right in order to succeed.
Without giving anything away, the central idea behind the movie is basically to give a mythology to a typical horror story motif such as the cabin in the woods, to weave it together with a science-fiction yarn that allows us to look at the genre both with humor and a greater reverence.
“The Cabin in the Woods” provides pure entertainment of a brilliant sort, an absolute rarity in any genre, let alone horror. With some pitch-perfect casting in roles best kept a secret, Goddard and Whedon sell their twist with great effectiveness. In hindsight, the whole operation could have backfired had there been just the slightest reason not to stay interested or care about the characters.
Anyone with a keen eye for or love of satire and a familiarity with the horror offerings being played off of will find themselves on the exact same page as Goddard throughout the film. Consequently, these folks will simply love “The Cabin in the Woods.” It’s one thing to poke fun at a genre—anyone can do that, especially in horror. This movie does it without flopping into silly mindless spoof territory, instead entertaining us exactly as a traditional horror riff would.
Although you won’t see critical accolades because genre films get no love, “The Cabin in the Woods” will get its due when it appears on countless Best of 2012 lists—unless more and more 2012 movies that aren’t supposed to be this good soar beyond expectations.
The Cabin in the Woods
Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Anna Hutchison