The best — and smartest — horror movie in a dozen years, The Cabin in the Woods, is released on Blu-ray and DVD today, and if you missed your chance to see it during its truncated theatrical run earlier this year, rectify that mistake and watch it now.
The brainchild of co-writers Joss Whedon (who also wrote and directed this summer’s megablockbuster, The Avengers) and Cloverfield scribe Drew Goddard (who also directed this masterpiece), Cabin has all the cultural savvy, whip-smart dialogue and razor-sharp meta references one expects from veterans of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s scary, funny and thought-provoking — all while being wildly entertaining.
The key is in having fun with the horror genre, not making fun of it. The Teen Horror Movie has very definite, very rigid requirements, so why not include them all — but give each an inventive twist? The characters are intelligent, but they do not break the fourth wall and wink at the audience, like the jokey Scream franchise can. The poster image of a cabin turned into a Rubik’s cube is particularly apt, because the movie keeps twisting and morphing into something else every few minutes. Just when you think you have it figured out, tt spins and interlocks with something else.
Which is why I cannot stress enough that you should avoid spoilers for this movie at all costs; do not read detailed reviews, do not visit websites — heck, don’t even read the blurb on the back of the box! Just pop in the movie and enjoy.
What you’ll see is an set-up straight out The Evil Dead, with a little Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes for good measure, as five college kids with recognizable traits pile into an RV to visit an uncle’s weird… (wait for it…) cabin in the woods. There’s Dana (Kristin Connolly), the timid, virginal type; Jules (Anna Hutchison), the slutty one; Curt (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth), who is Julie’s jock boyfriend; bookworm Holden (Jesse Williams); and committed stoner Marty (Fran Kranz). The cabin, in the middle of nowhere, has weird paintings, stuffed animal heads and one-way mirrors. And, of course, a dark basement. A game of truth-or-dare sends Dana into that basement, which is filled with even weirder stuff, including an old diary that dates from pioneer days. And while you’re screaming at the screen, “Don’t read it!” Dana reads it — and accidentally summons zombies.
After that, it starts to get weird. And then strange. And then the entire movie veers off the map completely. Here be dragons. This is why you don’t want to be spoiled: Because no matter what you think is going to happen, it doesn’t. You may think you know what’s going on, but trust me, you don’t. And even when the film reveals what’s going on, you still won’t understand it until the end. When it’s far too late.
And that climax really delivers on the promises made by the rest of the film: It ties together all the disparate elements and then tosses in the kitchen sink. And then Whedon adds another kitchen sink. The riveting finale is splashed with enough blood to satisfy any gorehound, and enough meta references to send Quentin Tarantino running for a film encyclopedia.
Just as the writing and directing are pitch-perfect, the acting is uniformly fine. Whedon discovered Hemsworth while casting this film, and then recommended him for the lead role in Thor, and the rest is history. Kranz, who played the programming wonk in Whedon’s DOLLHOUSE, plays a stoner like no other, while fellow Whedonverse regular Amy Acker (ANGEL) has a fun, if small, role.
So, if you want a film that won’t insult intelligence, that hasn’t given away all the good stuff in the commercials, you should definitely watch The Cabin in the Woods. It will leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Of course, that feeling will be a werewolf disemboweling you… but still…