Movie review: The Cabin In The Woods
Released on April 13th, 2012, The Cabin In The Woods follows a group of college students who dive into their van and drive towards their weekend getaway. What starts as a very typical, yet familiar story suddenly turns into a free-for-all roller-coaster ride.
What you have in this cabin are the usual suspects in a horror movie. You have the action hero (Chris Hemsworth), the sexpot (Anna Hutchison), the good girl (Kirsten Connelly), the brains (Jesse Williams), and the comic relief (Fran Kranz). No one in the group has any idea that they are being watched by scientists conducting a deadly experiment. The storyline harkens back to a plot twist from The Twilight Zone‘s creator, Rod Serling. In Serling’s penned episode, “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street,” a group of neighbors are suddenly trapped in their block, isolated from the rest of the world. The destruction of the neighborhood is really caused by aliens, who are conducting their own social experiments on the residents of Maple Street. In Cabin, these scientists are carrying out their own social experiments in fear, pain, and torture.
The plot was conceived by Joss Whedon, who has created some of the most memorable TV series, Angel, Firefly, and of course, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Though his track record for movies is very disappointing, especially with 1997′s Alien 4: Resurrection, which is the worst installment of the franchise. Alien 4: Resurrection just never lived up to the potential of its prequels. Whedon has argued many times that the 1992 film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Kristy Swanson, does not represent his actual vision. Whedon’s space western, Serenity, was supposed to be a continuing franchise, but was never a box-office success.
When given creative control, Whedon is able to do something smart and unexpected with his writing. The Reavers, the mutant cannibals in Firefly, are metaphors for zombies. In Cabin, Whedon plays around with the conventions of the horror genre, especially the repetitiveness of slasher movies. Whedon’s satirical commentary pokes fun at horror fans, which describes his script as a “loving hate letter” to horror movies. Whedon makes fun of the horror movies the fans watch, while providing them with a horror movie at the same time.
What makes first-time director Drew Goddard different than Alien 4 ‘s Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Buffy‘s Fran Ruebel Kuzui? After previously collaborating with Whedon on Angel and Buffy, Goddard also came up with some of the best Lost episodes, “The Shape Of Things To Come” and “Confirmed Dead.” Perhaps, Goddard learned something that was missing from Whedon’s disastrous films. Maybe, he also figured out what definitely works from director Matt Reeves, who adapted his Cloverfield script. Interestingly, Whedon is known for making a lot of popular culture references in his dialogue. In Cabin, Goddard visually captures those pop culture references through imagery from The Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, Snakes On A Plane, and 13 Ghosts.
The project was originally completed in 2009, but faced numerable delays before being released theatrically now in 2012. Worth noting, this film was made before Chris Hemsworth’s career skyrocketed with J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Kenneth Branagh’s Thor. At the time this film was made, Hemsworth was not a bankable star. One could argue the studio is only releasing the movie now, in order to cash in on Hemsworth before the Avengers movie. Hemsworth delivers a fine performance with Cabin‘s ensemble cast, which shows he can be the leading man and be in a supporting cast.
After many setbacks, this is one of the best film translations of Whedon’s scripts. The Cabin In the Woods is a weirdly enjoyable, mostly fun horror movie, but it is not a blockbuster hit. Hopefully, that blockbuster hit will be Joss Whedon’s Avengers, which is coming out on May 4th, 2012.