How to discuss the cabin in the woods? Now there is a million dollar question. A group of college students made up of Chris Hemsworth (pre-Thor), Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly and Jesse Williams all decide to disappear off the grid and go to Hemsworth’s cousin’s cabin in the woods for the weekend. The horror archetype is right there, only instead of each of the characters being stupid stereotypes, they are each intellectual in their own way. Keeping true to the genre stereotypes, they have a run in with a creepy local before arriving at the cabin. This is a sequence of oft-traveled horror clichés, and it takes very little time to shake those shackles free.
As far as describing Cain in the Woods’ plot goes, that’s as much as can be detailed without going into spoiler territory. Needless to say, there’s a cabin and it’s in the woods, after that the party of 5 see how far down the rabbit hole goes. Do not read any plot spoilers, don’t watch any trailers, ignorance is bliss with Drew Goddard’s spectacular directorial debut.
The script Goddard co-wrote with genre champion Joss Whedon is breathless in its controlled chaos. Horror is roasted, its rules and formulas lampooned with hilarious results, of which the cherry on top of the cake is one character getting exactly what they wished for. Horror might be the source of the comedy; it is also given all the respect it deserves with a healthy amount of claret and slime on screen and knowledge of the formulas. Subversion and metatextuality are the name of the game, but underneath all the flair and subterfuge there is still everything that the discerning genre fan demands, only with an unpredictability that comes with a film that is playing with expectations and set-up.
That unpredictability lends itself to the plot trajectory beautifully. At the beginning you are presented with certain truths and characters and from there chaos takes over and you, the viewer is just along for the ride. The way that information is divulged is comparable to that of a mystery. With each new revelation presented conclusions are made, which are quickly proven wrong and this escalates alongside the violence and intensity to a concluding third that can only be described as exhilarating.
It could be argued that Cabin in the Woods is the new Scream, only with less internal conflict. Scream blurred the line of horror with meta-textuality and self-awareness in a film that was limited by its own self-imposed boundaries, those of the slasher sub-genre. Was Scream and its sequels a patchy film experience as a comment on the nature of the genre? Nobody knows the answer to that question other than Wes Craven. No such doubt exists in Goddard’s film. This is thanks to Cabin in the Woods being an object of entertainment, rather than a thesis on horror lineage run through a nuts and bolts genre film.
This is not only thanks to the dazzling script from Whedon & Goddard, but the cast being full of life. With the film being finished two years ago and stuck amidst studio politics, the Chris Hemsworth who plays Curt is not a star. Still, he exudes leading man qualities; his charisma is affable whether he is playing the god of thunder or a psychology major in over his head.
Kristen Connolly and Jesse Williams have a real chemistry as a pair who’ve been set up with each other on this weekend, with Connolly being a sympathetic leading lady. The star of the show is Fran Kranz, who plays the stoner of the group; he has the lion’s share of the killer jokes and the personality that the viewer gravitates towards. Other actors are great, but who they are and their role is something that has to be kept in strict secrecy for any enjoyment to the gained from the many twists and turns that film delivers.
Horror fans, monster movie buffs, and people who are open to movies subverting your expectations with a wicked lick of humour will enjoy the hell out of this movie. Ignoring target audiences and appeal, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s collaboration is the best horror movie of recent years and the most unique one to see the light of day in far too long.