Directed by Drew Goddard.
2011. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Tim De Zarn
What if the hunting and one by one killing of teenagers we see in slasher flicks serves a greater purpose than placating the sadism of their viewers? What might that purpose be? These are the questions pulsing through every frame of The Cabin in the Woods. Also evident is some interesting commentary presented in the most grotesque and/or humorous manner.
The story seems fairly typical. Five college students who are more types than actual people decide to spend their break at a secluded cabin, owned by a cousin of one of them, for some fornicating and inebriating. There’s the alpha male Curt (none other than “Thor” himself, Chris Hemsworth), his blonde and ditzy girlfriend Jules (Hutchison), the wise pothead Marty (Kranz), intellectual but hunky guy Holden (Williams) and of course, (not quite) virginal Dana (Connolly).
On their way to the cabin, they meet the prerequisite scary old man at the also prerequisite creepy, barely operational gas station and he gives the prerequisite ominous warning. Once there, they do slasher movie stuff: take a dip in the nearby lake, play “Truth or Dare” while getting high and find an old book in the cellar containing some gruesome passages in English and more passages in Latin, all read aloud. If you know anything about horror flicks, you know reading Latin aloud is never a good idea. With that, zombies come bursting through the grounds surrounding the cabin and the killin’ starts.
Unlike thousands of other movies, kids getting dead is only half the story. Co-writers Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and Drew Goddard (Lost) take us behind the scenes to see that, unfortunately for the victims, this is actually a somewhat controlled situation. Some super-secret organization is steering the group towards their own destruction and watching the whole thing from a remote location via cameras they have all over the woods. They even cheer, jeer and take bets on what’s going to happen next. They’re a bunch even more twisted than we are. Many seem to consider this aspect a spoiler however, I do not. This is something we find out really early on and there is oh so much more to it than this.
Assessing the perversion of the people in charge leads us to another interesting question. I won’t spoil the movie by specifying the literal reason they do what they do. I will say that it’s a metaphor for we, the target audience. The majority of profitable movies in any genre stick to a certain formula. Horror is no exception. With that being the case, who is really in control? Is it the studios who keep recycling the same material knowing that a certain segment of the population will flock to the theaters? Or are we in control, making them stick to the formula knowing that we will not fork over our hard-earned dollars should they stray too far from what’s expected?
Given the questions it poses during its runtime it’s fitting The Cabin in the Woods features strong special fx and countless references to other movies (mostly horror). For the first two acts, we get efficient, if unspectacular, slasher flick fare. The blood soaked third is an explosion of those visuals and references that will have you on the edge of your seat. All the excitement may make it hard to realize there is something deeper at work, here. It may be difficult to realize what answers the ending provides about those questions, assuming one is aware of them in the first place. In other words, it works on multiple levels. Its layers don’t merely cover, but enhance one another. This works so well that despite all the wicked cutlery and pointed or jagged fangs on display, the movie’s wit is sharpest of them all.