A love letter should feel familiar. They should have a lot of the same qualities one would expect. But what if that letter was also a loving critique? That’s exactly what Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard did with their horror film The Cabin In The Woods. Yet, despite how smart and searing the film can be as a criticism, it stands as equally entertaining for fans and non-fans of horror.
All of that isn’t to say that the film is lacking in thrills or blood. The violence is brutal and creative enough to keep from feeling ho hum. Especially in the first half, while the second becomes something else entirely. You are in on the sham from the start, yet the full mystery is kept just beyond your grasp throughout. Meaning even if you’ve figured it out, there are plenty of twists and turns left to keep things interesting. There is also an intelligence here that invites you to think instead of trying to keep you from that pesky thought process that shoots holes in lesser films’ storylines.
By now you’ve probably grasped that this isn’t your average horror film. Whedon and Goddard turn the genre on its head, but more than that they have broken the boundaries of how far a film in this genre can go. Why can’t horror be equally whipsmart about the conventions and yet still be damn fine entertainment? There are plenty of moments of sheer intensity as the film begins with five college students that immediately have an X on their back. As Cabin unfolds, each character manages to have their shining moment. In fact, it feels as if these are completely fleshed out humans and not just lambs to the slaughter.
If you’re a horror fan, that’s surprisingly refreshing to see. Oh, and these aren’t your average college students either. They are all very intelligent and while there are some alpha males, they certainly aren’t meatheads. Chris Hemsworth (Curt) shows the glimmers of why an entire franchise was built around him, while Fran Kranz (Marty) channels an intelligent pothead that feels like a smart Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. Anna Hutchison (Jules) and Jesse Williams (Holden) provide an equal amount of detail and depth to their characters that could have otherwise felt one dimensional. And then there is Kristin Connolly (Dana) who should go on to a healthy screen life after this. Connolly’s character is the perfect innocent youth that the film can follow and give the audience an angle that this is definitely not something any of the group bargained for.
No matter what kind of theatrical life Cabin has, it will likely live on in how much impact it has on the genre’s directors (past, present, and future). The deft blend of humor and horror is ever present, and a lot of tense moments are built around the idea of if something will become sick and twisted or just flat out funny. You care for each of the college students while also forming a bond to their tormentors. Jump scares? Not here. What about gore for the sake of gore? Nope. As a horror fan myself, those two evolutions of the genre have frustrated me to no end and it’s a welcome change that they are absent. While clocking in at 95 minutes, the entertainment it provides leaves you feeling like you watched a two hour film. Rarely does a short film feeling longer than it actually is count as a good thing, but it’s just par for the course with Cabin bucking conventions.
Whedon and Goddard aren’t just satisfied by playing in a single genre. They break out of their sandbox’s walls and the film takes a crazed shift that will have you laughing at the absurdity while also thanking them internally for giving into their own desires. You don’t have to be a horror fan to appreciate and enjoy The Cabin In The Woods. In fact, you could hate the horror genre for what it has become and will likely have your faith restored. The film sat in the studio vault for a while and was rumored to never see the light of day due to MGM’s financial collapse. Yet here it is in wide release. This isn’t a studio project. This is a Goddard and Whedon love-child that got financed and distributed based on the shear strength of what it is: a fantastic film.