After a long and troubled release history (the film was shelved in 2009), culminating for Australian audiences in a decision for its release straight to DVD that was widely criticized by an active online community and has thankfully led to a brief theatrical engagement, The Cabin In The Woods attempts to do no less then completely deconstruct and reinvent the entire horror genre, and what’s more it succeeds, with stunning results.
It’s hard to discuss the plot of the film without giving too much away, but it begins with two men (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) in what appears to be a government building. They come to a massive control room and watch as five college students assemble in a suburban neighbourhood. They are all introduced in the familiar archetypes of the genre: the slut (Anna Hutchison), the jock (Chris Hemsworth), the thinker (Jesse Williams), the stoner (Fran Kranz), and of course, the virgin (Kristen Connolly). They make their way to the titular location and then the movie really takes off. Anymore information would give too much away.
The film effectively takes off from where Wes Craven finished with his New Nightmare and Scream triology and takes what must be the most post-modern look at the horror film possible. What makes it work though is the incredible thoughtfulness and intelligence of co-writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon combined with Goddard’s crisp direction. As a complete revitalization of the horror film, it draws upon all the genres clichés and archetypes and sets about giving them a new spin. It isn’t so much that it makes knowing winks to classic staples of the genre (a gas station is straight from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the exterior of the cabin is basically the same as The Evil Dead), but the way in which it ultimately frames these clichés and archetypes to serve a higher purpose. It provides in its entirety a philosophical framework through which to examine the horror film.
The characters in the film, though ultimately serving the aforementioned higher purpose, are better fleshed out than normal. Goddard and Whedon purposefully give them an intelligence generally lacking in these films and the actors provide a warmth that makes us care about their journey. The film is also injected with a wry humour that is even more daring when it could so easily have hurt the carefully planned tone, but succeeds none the less. The direction is superb and complements the story perfectly, especially when events spiral completely out of control towards the end. The effects are sublime and the makeup on the monsters harks back to the classical physical effects of Romero and Fulci. Horror fans will be happy.
In terms of complete originality and spectacle, The Cabin In The Woods is this year’s Inception, a thoughtful, superbly crafted masterpiece bursting at the seams with stunningly executed, innovative ideas.